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RIDING BIBLE Powered By Docstoc
              Lead bike Alert - Follower Reaction
                                      By James R. Davis

Among the many responsibilities of the lead bike is communications. Whether the lead bike
has (or uses) a CB or not, it is essential for the safety of the group that signals be used to
convey much needed information.

An obstruction in the road, for example, must be pointed out - literally by pointing at it.

An expected lane change needs to be announced using turn signal lights. (Note that many
groups tend to also use left arm signals announcing left or right turns but I am completely
against that particular practice as having two hands on the grips is far too important,
particularly if speed adjustments are being made in anticipation of the turn.)

There are lots of group specific hand signals that have come about over time. For example,
patting the top of the head, in some groups, means 'smoky' (a policeman) ahead. Hand on
top of the helmet forming a knife edge vertically means, to some groups, 'ride in single file'
while in others the left arm pointing up at a ninety degree angle with a single finger pointed to
the sky means the same thing.

Whatever the group practices are they should be announced at a pre-ride briefing so that all
will understand them.

But one signal does not seem to get mentioned very often yet it turns out to be the most
important one of all - the 'general warning' or 'Caution-Warning-Danger' signal.

Whenever the lead bike sees something, anything, that might become a threat to the group or
that may require the group to slow down or stop quickly then the lead bike must double tap
his/her front brake to advise the rest of the group. This double tap of the front brake causes a
double flash of the brake lights. Whenever you see a double flash of brake lights ahead of
you your reasonable and automatic response MUST BE to duplicate the signal (with a double
tap of your own) and then to SLOW DOWN.

This accomplishes three things at once: it passes along the warning; it insures that your
brakes are 'covered', and it adds space between you and the bike ahead just in case you will
need it.

If it turns out that the threat is not real, nothing has been lost.

If, after 10 seconds or so nothing has happened, you can resume normal spacing and speed.

This is such a fundamentally important and useful signal it should become an international
standard, in my opinion.

                         A function of Behaviour
                                    By: James R. Davis

For those of you that have done any group riding there is no doubt in your mind about
whether the group leader was the first bike in line or somebody else. For those that have not
done so, I'd like to explain some realities.

While it is normal that the 'Road Captain' or 'Group Leader' rides in the first position of the
group - they, after all, are responsible for establishing route and stops, etc. - just because the
first bike is thought of as the 'leader', it ain't necessarily so. And THAT could be dangerous!

An example might show you what I mean. A few years ago a group of bikes was on a ride and
along the way the lead bike missed an expected left turn. Instead of using his CB to 'explain'
(change of plan or a problem with the road they were going to turn on, etc.), his assumption
was that as he was the lead bike all other bikes would simply follow him. They didn't. The
second bike in line recognized the missed turn and decided to turn left and 'save the group
from having to make a U-turn.' THAT'S MUTINY! And if you doubt it's dangerous, consider
that the third bike, not knowing who the real leader of the group was, became so confused
that she ran straight into the side of the second bike and the bike behind her very nearly ran
into her.

(The lady was confused because the leader failed to identify himself - she had an accident
because she was travelling too close to the bike ahead of her.)

So, who IS the actual leader? Why should there be any question about it? A leader evidences
leadership! Before the ride begins the 'leader' hosts a pre-ride briefing and explains the 'rules'
- what signals they will use, what route they expect to take, who the drag bike will be for their
group, how the group makes lane changes, how any member of the group can cause the
group to make a stop, etc. Then, the leader tells the group where they are to line up in
preparation for their departure.

By virtue of the members of the group lining up as instructed THEY HAVE ACKNOWLEDGED
both the leadership of the person who hosted the meeting and that they intend to follow the

In the example I gave above the lady was the cause of the accident - the 'Prime Directive' in
any group ride is "DO NOT HIT THE BIKE AHEAD OF YOU." The proper thing for all riders in
the group to have done was to follow the lead bike - unless it was into danger. At a later time
when everybody is off their bikes there would no doubt be some good natured ribbing going
on about unannounced change of plans. And, had the number 2 bike done as he did - decide
to make a turn on his own - then all bikes that were behind him should have let him go and
continued following the LEADER.

'Power' is derived from position. 'Authority' is derived from title. 'Leadership' is derived from

                  Weight transfer always occurs
                                    By: James R. Davis

The efficiency of your brakes is misunderstood by almost everybody. You have heard, I'm
sure, that the front brake provides about 70% of your stopping ability while the rear brake
provides about 30%.


If you simply use the rear brake, and you stomp on the pedal to do so, you will get about 33%
(or less) of the total stopping potential of your brakes. That, because you will immediately
cause a weight transfer that unloads the rear and, thus, reduces traction which causes a skid
and which further reduces your stopping efficiency.

If you don't stomp on the rear brake but, rather, apply it aggressively up to the point of a skid
the stopping power of your rear brake rises to about 40% of your total potential braking

That does NOT mean that your front brake, therefore, can provide from 60% to 67% of the
total braking power of your bike!!!

If you use the front brake by itself (and do not let it lock the front wheel) that brake can
provide up to 100% of the total potential braking power of the bike as witness the fact that
you can cause the rear wheel to leave the ground.

If you use both brakes at the same time then for the earliest part of the effort the rear brake is
providing perhaps 20% of the total stopping power and fades to zero (or close to it) with
weight transfer as you increase the use of the front brake.

If you are keeping track, the total braking power applied to slowing you down or stopping you
is NEVER GREATER THAN 40% from the rear brake and NEVER LESS THAN 80% from the
front brake. Clearly this is not a zero-sum game.

How can that be? Because weight transfer is always greater when you use the front brake
and that robs traction from the rear tire and, thus, renders the rear brake less and less

Riders who rely entirely on their rear brake are giving away more than half their stopping

                                A bit of geometry
                                     By: James R. Davis

There are times when you must make a slow-speed short-radius turn. For example, when
doing a U-turn on a two-lane road. Most riders realize that you must lean your bike very
aggressively to accomplish such a turn, but almost as many have no idea how to do that or
why. That is, they find it difficult to rationalize a steep lean when all their prior experience
argues that at slow speeds they need to keep their bikes as close to vertical as possible in
order to prevent it from falling over.

So, let's first look at the 'why' of it - why does a steep lean angle result in a short radius turn?

If you were to draw a line through the axel of your front wheel and extend it towards the inside
of your turn it would point to the centre of that turn. If your bike was vertical while making the
turn that line would not, however, be pointing at the ground. If there was a pole stuck in the
ground at the centre of your turn that line would intersect it at the height of your axel. In that
case the radius of your turn would be the length of that line. Let's just say that the length of
that imaginary line, the radius of the turn, was 30 feet in length.

But, of course, your bike was leaned modestly towards the inside of the turn so the line would
intersect that pole at some point lower than the height of your axel. Indeed, if your lean angle
was significant that line could actually intersect that pole below ground level.

In the illustration below you will see how leaning a bike at 45 degrees will shorten the radius
from the 30 feet it was when vertical to about 21 feet for a given handlebar turn angle. (I
selected the extreme lean angle of 45 degrees because that is your approximate limit on a
street bike before dragging a peg.)

So now you know that the steeper the lean angle, the shorter the radius at any handlebar turn
angle. The diagram above is not intended to suggest that if you can ride a 30 foot radius
curve at near vertical you can ride a 21 foot radius curve with a bike lean of 45 degrees.
Rather, it shows the paths taken by a bike that has the same handlebar turn angle given
different lean angles.

The next thing you need to know is HOW TO LEAN the bike significantly at slow speeds. That
is done by offsetting your body towards the outside of the turn - usually called 'counter-
balancing'. When you do that the bike itself leans farther into the turn in order to maintain the
same Centre of Gravity. This, in turn, means that the force of gravity remains exactly
balanced with centrifugal force so the bike neither falls into the turn nor widens the radius.

I drew the picture pretty quickly and so its proportions are off but I think it accurately
represents the concepts described.

In the real world you do not ride circles very often. When you want to make a shortest radius
turn at slow speeds you will oversteer the handlebars into the turn (along with counterweight
shifting) and cause the bike to 'fall' into the turn then you will increase speed and 'drive out of
the fall' and into the path you wanted in the first place.

If you did want to ride in a circle, however, then you will need to increase your speed to
maintain a steep lean angle.

For perspective ... if you were making a 30 foot radius turn at 10 MPH then your lean angle
would be very close to 13 degrees. If you wanted to maintain that 30 foot radius turn but use a
45 degree lean angle you would need to do it at about 21 MPH. If you wanted to do a 21 foot
radius turn with a lean angle of 45 degrees your speed would only have to be increased to
about 18 MPH.

(Theoretically, if you wanted to maintain your 10 MPH speed using a 45 degree lean angle
you could manage a 7 foot radius turn.)

A Canadian member (BC-Byron) of our motorcycles safety discussion forum produced a
graphic that is reproduced below which contains all of the formulas necessary to calculate or
verify the information contained in this article.

One last thing ... does the height of your Centre of Gravity determine whether or not you can
make a short-radius turn or limit how short that radius can be because it limits lean angle?

The height of your Centre of Gravity does NOT determine lean angle. As we have discussed
to excess here, the lean angle is established by speed and radius of your turn. (Though it is
true that a higher Centre of Gravity means that it is closer to the centre of a circle you are
making when leaned over, thus resulting in a lower centrifugal force, the effect is trivial for all
practical purposes.)

So just what part does the height of your Centre of Gravity play?

Its fundamental contribution in this discussion is a determinant of how easily you can cause
the bike to lean. (A low Cof G bike is far easier to lean than is a higher one.)

Though the height of your C of G does not affect lean angle it is the principal factor in
determining when you will lose control of your bike in a turn when acceleration or deceleration
are involved. The higher the C of G is relative to your wheelbase, the sooner you will lose
control if you either accelerate or decelerate. That is, weight transfer is greater the higher the
C of G is relative to wheelbase at any given acceleration or deceleration rate.

Acceleration caused loss of control usually occurs as a result of losing traction on the front tire
to the point that it slides.

On the other hand, braking caused loss of control usually occurs as a result of losing traction
on the rear tire to the point that it slides.

High rates of acceleration or an unusually high C of G can cause the rear tire to lose traction
before the front one does.

Anyway, to get back on point ... no matter the height of your C of G, for any given speed and
turn radius you will have the same lean angle.

So, let's add some 'practical' information here beyond the geometry and physics.

To perform a maximum lean, shortest radius, slow-speed turn you must counter-balance
during the turn. But how do you control the speed and manage centrifugal force?

You control a motorcycle at slow speed primarily with your left hand! That is, by controlling
your clutch's friction zone. You use your throttle only for the purpose of assuring that engine
speed is greater than you need and you use the clutch lever to slip the clutch and manage
your speed with vernier-like precision.

What actually happens is that you steer (not counter-steer) your handlebars into the turn
aggressively as you slide your body weight towards the outside of the turn and let the bike
lean as far as you want it to go. You pay attention to how your body feels - it becomes
'sensitive' to the balance of gravity and centrifugal forces and based on that feeling you adjust

Experience (ain't practice grand?) changes doubt into familiar confidence. You will be able to
'dial in' the right combination of lean angle and shifted body weight almost instantly after you
teach your body what the right combination feels like.

This message describes a practice that I think is an ideal way to learn how to make short
radius slow speed turns.

You want to be able to make tight turns - sometimes they are necessary such as doing a U-
turn on a two-lane road. To do so you MUST lean your bike farther than you would for a
normal turn at that speed.

As to dragging pegs ... that's just a limit indication. It's saying you have leaned it as far as you
can safely do so, more or less.

        Is it Balance or Trust when leaned over?
                                    By: James R. Davis

It seems to me that even the most experienced motorcyclists believe that their sense of
balance is what allows them to maintain control of their bikes, particularly in a turn. I maintain
that balance is almost an insignificant aspect of controlling a motorcycle.

Regardless of where you are sitting on your seat (or off it) you can cause the bike to turn in
the direction you want it to go - indeed, counter-steering is steering input that tells the bike

how far to lean and how fast to adopt that posture and 'balance' is hardly a part of the

The front-end design of your motorcycle allows the bike to exhibit self-correcting behaviours.
Without any steering input whatever a bike that is moving faster than you can run will attempt
to find vertical and drive in a straight line. When in a turn your only steering input is
maintenance of pressure on the inside grip in order to continue (without any wobble at all)
your course. The bike 'finds' the perfect balance point between centrifugal and gravity forces
and you are merely along for the ride.

Indeed, any additional steering input from you is what accounts for 'going wide' or 'fighting' the
bike. Shifting your weight to 'help' the turn invariably results in having to make additional
adjustments and is fairly described as 'over-correcting.'

Rather than balance, I maintain, the proper input to support counter-steering is Trust. The
only time that balance plays a significant part in the control of your motorcycle is when you
are travelling at slow speeds (about as fast as you can walk.)

       Requires that you behave ABNORMALLY
                                   By: James R. Davis

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for reducing
accidents/injuries/deaths on our highways. They provide annual statistics which are
extremely well documented in order to inform the public of how successful, or not, they have
been. There is much to be learned from those statistics.

For example, there were just over 4.9 million registered motorcycles in the United States
during the year 2001 and those motorcycles were ridden for a total of just over 9.5 BILLION
miles in that year. Those are impressive numbers until you recognize that they mean that the
average motorcycle was ridden for only about 1,943 miles in the year. On the other hand
there were nearly 129 million registered passenger cars which accounted for nearly 1.6
TRILLION miles of travel in the same year, which means an average of about 12,311 miles
per registered car.

So? Well, let's add some more information from the NHTSA. There were 33.38 fatalities per
each 100 million miles of travel on a motorcycle while there were only 1.28 fatalities per each
100 million miles of passenger car travel. That argues that you are TWENTY-SIX times more
likely to get killed riding a motorcycle than you are when riding in a car.

There were 632 injuries for each 100 million miles of motorcycle travel while there were only
122 injuries for each 100 million miles of passenger car travel. Meaning it is FIVE times as
likely that you will get injured riding a motorcycle than riding a car.

But on the other side of the statistics is the following: 74,000 motorcycles were involved in an
accident in the year 2001 which is only 1.5% of all registered motorcycles while there were
6,705,000 passenger cars involved in an accident in the same year which is an astonishingly
large 5%. That means that the odds of your motorcycle being involved in an accident is
SUBSTANTIALLY LOWER than your car being in an accident while the odds are

overwhelming that if you are involved in an accident on your bike it will be catastrophic in
comparison to what would happen if you were in a car.

At the very least you must conclude from the above facts that riding a motorcycle is
substantially more dangerous than riding in a car. However, you know that a motorcycle is
more agile than a car and should be able to, thus, avoid more of certain kinds of accidents
than do cars. They can stop more quickly and can usually out accelerate most cars so there
is even more reason to wonder why they don't avoid certain kinds of accidents that cars
cannot avoid. Yet the statistics are not lying - they tell us that the more miles you drive your
motorcycle, the higher the odds that you will be involved in an accident.

But must that be the case? Must it be true that your passion for motorcycles requires that you
end up dead or injured in a motorcycle related accident sooner or later? Of course not! So,
how do you beat the odds?

Statistics are only true if the population behaves 'normally.' Let me explain...

A substantial number of motorcycle accidents involve a rider who has been drinking. So, if on
occasion you drink and drive, you are acting 'normally' as to the statistics and they are more
closely predicting what will happen to you. A substantial number of accidents occur when
'luck' runs out - you drive through a yellow light and a truck happens to run over you in the
intersection. But many, if not most, motorcyclists rely on luck to get them through a ride in
just such a scenario. To the extent that you rely on 'luck' you are acting 'normally' relative to
the statistics - you are trying to insure that they are self-fulfilling predictors.

What DOES make a difference in statistical outcomes is BEHAVIOR that is at variance with
'normal.' If the normal motorcyclist fails to cover his front brake while moving, those
motorcyclists who DO cover their brakes tend to beat the odds. If the normal motorcyclist
rides his bike once a month, and gets a couple of hundred miles of experience in the process,
all of it as if s/he was a newbie each time, then those of you who take your bikes to a parking
lot and practice braking or slow speed manoeuvres and who ride more frequently and obtain
more experience and familiarity with your bikes as a result are acting 'abnormally', and your
odds of surviving the experience increases as a result.

If an incredibly high percentage of motorcycle accidents occur within the first six months of
ownership and within just a few miles of home then those of you who have years of
experience - not just years, but EXPERIENCED years - are 'abnormal' and your odds of being
in an accident are not the same as those predicted by normal statistics.

If a substantial number of motorcyclists died when their heads hit the ground without wearing
a helmet then it can be said that the statistics show what will happen to a 'normal' population
of motorcyclists, including a percentage of those who do not wear helmets, so that if you DO
ALWAYS wear a helmet you are acting 'abnormally' and your odds of survival increases, and
if you SOMETIMES do not wear one you are acting 'normally' so that the odds more closely
describe YOUR future potential as an organ donor. (And, of course, if you NEVER wear a
helmet you are also behaving abnormally, but in this case you SUBSTANTIALLY INCREASE
YOUR ODDS of dying on a motorcycle beyond the already dreadful statistics mentioned

The fact is that it is more dangerous to ride a motorcycle than it is to ride in a passenger car.
The way to beat the odds is to BEHAVE in ways that decrease YOUR odds of being involved
in an accident or being injured or killed if you are in one. In other words, you must behave
'abnormally'. (i.e., defensively, intelligently, soberly, with learned (practiced) skills, with
protective gear and as if your life depends on it, because it does.)

Relying on luck (odds) is simply stupid.

(For those of you who are inclined to argue that the statistics don't apply to you - that you are
less likely to be involved in a motorcycle accident because you don't BEHAVE like some you
have seen on the streets racing through curves at well over posted speed limits or weaving
through traffic without use of signals, or any other unsafe behaviour you care to describe -

you MIGHT be right, but not necessarily so. All that it takes for the statistics to closely predict
YOUR odds of survival is that you closely match the CUMULATIVE average behaviour of the
entire population sampled by the statistic. It does not take 'bad' behaviour to match the odds;
it takes an 'occasional' lapse of judgement to move you towards 'normal' odds. Actually, it
doesn't even take that. We already know that the average biker rides his motorcycle less
than 2,000 miles per year and that the higher the mileage, the higher the odds that you will be
involved in an accident. That is, the higher the mileage, the more often you expose yourself
to danger. So, assuming your other behaviours tend to reduce the odds of an accident, if you
ride a lot of miles that behaviour increases your odds of an accident - possibly as much as
you reduced the odds by your otherwise safer behaviours. YOU are already a part of the
sample and make up a small portion of the total sampled. There are others in that list who
have never had an accident and never will. They, like you, are the counter-weight offsetting
the behaviour of those that clearly increase the odds of an accident. To the extent that you’re
CUMULATIVE behaviours are safer than those of all others in the sample, your odds of
survival without an accident are better than the statistics predict. )

        Amplifies a 'flick' into a 'jolt' or high-side
                                    By: James R. Davis

There seems to be a common understanding that because traction may be regained after
releasing the rear brake during a locked rear-brake skid/slide a high-side can occur and for
that reason one should never release that rear brake once it has locked. But that
understanding seems to include a belief that regained traction when sliding is necessary to
turn a locked rear-brake into a killer. The regaining of traction is simply NOT necessary to
convert a slide into a high-side though when that happens a high-side is certainly more likely.

First, some fundamentals... during a slide or skid it is NOT true that traction is absent - it is
merely reduced from what it would be had the tire not been sliding or skidding. There remains
often as much as 80% of the original traction at such times.

So that everyone is clear as to terminology... a skid is in the direction of bike travel while a
slide has a lateral component (to the side.)

If you lose then regain traction during a skid, so what? A brief hesitation but NO 'twitch' that
tries to unseat you at minimum or throw you over the side at worst. But if there is a slide
involved - meaning the bike's rear-end is pointing in any direction other than the direction of
travel, then the regaining of traction always involves a 'twitch' - the greater the angular
difference between tire travel and direction the bike is pointing, the greater that 'twitch' is.

Now, and only as to the rear tire... regaining traction while being out of alignment not only
means that there will be increased 'drag' which tries to slow that tire's movement (in the
direction of bike travel), but to the extent that the rear tire is spinning as a result of having
released its brake there will be an instantly applied acceleration in the direction the tire is
pointing (which can be as great as 90 degrees different from the direction the bike is moving.)

RELEASING THE REAR BRAKE. That, because as I said above, there is still a high level of

traction that exists even in a sliding tire so that when its ability to rotate is restored and it
begins to spin (even modestly) that drag will contain a vectored component which translates
into a partially lateral (to the side) acceleration. Should you do the unthinkably stupid
behaviour of releasing the clutch as well as the rear brake and thus allow engine power to
reach the wheel/ground, up to about 80% of that power will be translated into a substantial
lateral acceleration to the extent the tire is not pointing in the direction of travel.

ANY lateral acceleration of the rear wheel amplifies that 'twitch' into a 'jolt' at minimum and a
high-side at worst. In the following graphic you see the effect of releasing the rear brake after
the bike has already begun a slide. A lateral acceleration is inescapable (though this graphic
suggests a mere 'twitch' I assure you that if the bike was this far out of alignment that 'twitch'
would be a SEVERE 'jolt' or even a high side.) If you then did the unthinkable, released the
clutch and applied power, you would increase that lateral acceleration to a point that virtually
guarantees a high side.

                             The less you weigh
                                    By: James R. Davis


If you were to measure how much your motorcycle (and you) weigh at a dead stop and then
while you are moving at, say, 75 MPH, there would be a meaningful difference.

This happens because the faster you travel through the air, the stronger the turbulence and,
thus, the lift that the relatively low pressure of turbulence creates. Turbulence below the bike
is trivial by comparison to that above it.

And, if instead of sitting straight up you are leaned forward, your back creates an airfoil that
creates even greater lift.

If the combined weight of you and the bike, when at a dead stop, is about 800 pounds, then
when you are moving at speeds of 75 MPH that combined weight will be closer to 790
pounds, or less. And the faster you go, the lower that total will be.

You might think the lift would be evenly distributed fore and aft. Wrong. Far more of the lift is
on the front wheel than the rear. And why that's important is that with a lowering of weight on
the front end there is a corresponding reduction is traction and, thus, stabilizing force
available from trail. Indeed, at very high speeds your motorcycle will feel unresponsive and
'light' in the front end - so much so that you will not trust it (nor should you) to hold onto the
ground in your turns.

While there is always a net lift caused by airflow with speed, the effect on the rear end of your
bike could well be to increase its weight. This, because just like the amount of weight transfer
acceleration generates is determined by how high the centre of gravity is as compared to the
wheelbase, wind resistance creates a downforce in the rear proportional to how high the
centre of wind resistance is to that wheelbase.

[All wind resistance is above the ground while all forward motion forces are at ground level.
That automatically creates a torque which tries to lift the front and lower the rear.]

Downforce on the rear wheel can be less than, equal to, or greater than the lift generated by
turbulence as described above and that is largely determined by how high the centre of wind
resistance point is relative to the wheelbase.

The taller you sit, the more 'baggy' your clothing, the 'wider' you are, the bigger your
windscreen, and the faster you move ... the lighter your front end will get, but the more likely
the bike's rear end will get heavier rather than lighter.

Lest you think this is academic... the reason there are short (seemingly useless) windscreens
on sport bikes is to diminish the turbulence BEHIND the rider so that there is not so much lift
of the bike at speed that control is badly compromised. They are small so that they do not, at
the same time, increase downforce from wind resistance that would lighten the front end even
more. Tourers take note: your windscreen lightens your front end dramatically!

Given enough horsepower and proper gearing your maximum possible speed becomes
limited to that which results in insufficient front wheel traction to steer the motorcycle.

                           Are a SAFETY feature

                                    By: James R. Davis

When your bike is leaned over at a 45 degree angle in a curve you are putting exactly 1g of
lateral force on your tires (and about 40% more weight.) But you have seen that motorcycle
racers lean their bikes about 50 degrees in virtually every curve they encounter on the track.
You are GOOD and wonder why the damn motorcycle manufactures design their bikes with
such low pegs making it almost impossible for you to lean farther than 45 degrees without
ending up low-siding the bike.

The only thing keeping your tires from sliding out from under you is traction. Street legal tires,
if warmed up (but not too hot), will lose traction when a lateral force of 1.1 g's, or LESS, is
applied to them. Cold tires or overly hot ones don't have even that much traction potential.

Racers use bikes that allow them to lean at least 50 degrees before any part of the bike other
than the tires can touch the ground. At a 50 degree lean angle their tires are contending with
1.2 g's of lateral force. YOUR tires would have lost traction before that happened.

Motorcycle racing tires are built with special compounds designed to provide upwards of 1.3
g's of traction capability. [Formula One Race car tires can handle as much as 4.0 g's - yes,
THEY can make a tighter turn than any motorcycle.]

When you hear your pegs screaming at you because they are dragging they are telling you
that any more lean and you will be testing the abrasion resistance of your riding gear.

This is good, no?

Think long and hard before jacking up the suspension of your bike or of using non-standard
tire profiles so you can avoid dragging your pegs in those corners. Better, unless you are on
a race track, stay away from 45 degree leans altogether.

          Should something happen to the rider
                                    By: James R. Davis

The general impression amongst motorcyclists is that a passenger would be totally helpless
when it comes to controlling the motorcycle should something happen to the rider. Nonsense!

An accident occurred in Ohio, I believe, some years ago where a deer attempted to jump over
a motorcycle from the side and hit the rider, knocking him completely off the bike. The man's
wife was a passenger at the time and she managed to take control of the bike and get it off to
the side of the road and slowed it down so greatly that it simply fell over (into the grass.)

Well, you argue, since there was no rider in front of her she was able to reach the controls.

In fact, even if the rider was still there having, for example, simply collapsed from a heart
attack, the passenger can almost always still gain control of the motorcycle.

Two controls that the passenger usually cannot reach are the gear shift lever and the rear
brake, but the two that he/she CAN reach are the clutch lever and the front brake. (And, not
incidentally, the engine cut-off switch.) Thus, the passenger can steer the bike as well as
control its speed.

Even with a rider backrest, a passenger can stand on his/her pegs and lean over the rider to
gain control of the bike. Elaine and I have practiced this manoeuvre and demonstrated it to
several motorcycle groups at rallies and other gatherings.

It does not take a rider (or anyone at all on the bike) to balance a motorcycle moving at any
reasonable speed. Because of trail there is an automatic attempt by all motorcycles to get
vertical and steer in a straight line. In other words, though there will likely be some wild
gyrations of the bike as it finds its way to a stable posture, there is TIME available to the
passenger to get control of that bike.

First order of business is to slow it down. Second order of business is to get it steered to as
safe a place as possible before it falls over, because fall over it will.

Before it falls over that engine cut-off switch should be turned off.

The passenger is certainly not helpless. Perhaps it would be a good thing to let him/her know
it and even practice (at a dead stop, engine off, on the side stand) assuming control, no?

Following is a picture of Elaine and myself using my GoldWing in a Co-Rider Safety Demo
showing her taking control of my bike even though I was still in the rider's saddle and there is
a backrest between us. Note that she was not standing nearly as tall as she could have
should she have needed to because I was not as far out of the way as I was in the demo.

[Need I add that this is another reason why a person who prefers being a passenger and
never intends to ride a bike by themselves should be encouraged to attend the MSF?]

If you are the rider and find yourself in trouble (heart attack or substantial confusion, for
example) then YOUR job is to TRUST YOUR passenger and give her control! Please note
that if she lies on the rider she tends to keep him on the bike. A good thing if travelling at 70
MPH, no?

                     Trail causes self correction
                                    By James R. Davis

We will look at two things that result from the fact that your front forks are not pointing straight
down - that is, there is a rake angle to those forks: how counter-steering is initiated and how
weave and wobble are diminished.

The diagram above represents your front tire pointing to the left. The diagonal dashed line
represents your steering stem as if it were extended to the ground. Please note how this
defines ground trail. (The diagram exaggerates how far forward of the contact patch the
steering axis point is for clarity.)

When you turn the handlebar you are attempting to turn the tire about the steering axis at
ground level, not about the contact patch. For example, if you turn the handlebar to the right
you are trying to get the tire to turn as shown above. However, as the contact patch is
touching the ground and the axis is not, the contact patch CANNOT simply slide off to the left
as shown. Instead, the body of the motorcycle moves in that direction via force at the triple-
tree. You have, in effect, steered the front tire out from under the bike by steering the bike
away from the tire. [At a dead stop turn your handlebars all the way to the right and observe
how the top of the bike has moved to the left.]

As a result, gravity now tries to pull the bike down towards the left and that drags the front
wheel with it and our travel direction has begun moving to the LEFT. (For the purists out
there this is not arguing that gyroscopic precession didn't play a part - only that because there
is a rake angle counter-steering would work even without gyroscopic precession.) [Note that
because of the huge difference in mass between the relatively light front-end and the rest of
the bike, when travelling at less than about 6 MPH you actually CAN make a significant turn
of the handlebars and there is not enough centrifugal force to push the top of the bike away
from the direction you are pointing to. Instead, the bike falls INTO the turn at these slow
speeds and THAT is why counter-steering does not work at such slow speeds.]

Wobble and weave are diminished because when the wheel is pointing at an angle other than
straight ahead the contact patch is not in alignment with the direction of travel of the bike -
that is, a slip angle is created. A restoring force is applied to the contact patch by the ground
which attempts to force that alignment. Thus, because of trail, the front wheel tries to go in a
straight line. [This restoring force, sometimes called a 'righting moment' or 'castor effect', is a
function of the length of trail. The longer the trail, the stronger it is. It is also a function of
traction. The higher the traction, the stronger it is. Thus, braking increases the restoring

force. This is primarily what 'dumps' a bike when the front brake is applied during a slow
speed turn.]

         Accelerate or Decelerate - NOT Swerve
                                   By James R. Davis

You have just entered an intersection (at, say, 30 MPH) and notice that a vehicle is about to
enter the intersection from the left - it will not, cannot, stop in time - and unless you do
something fast you are going to collide. What are your options? What escape paths do you

I propose that there are only two choices: accelerate or decelerate. Swerving to the right is
NOT a reasonable alternative though most people will almost certainly attempt to do so.
(Clearly swerving to the left is crazy - it puts you into oncoming traffic.)

If you accelerate and go straight ahead (1) you might move, say, 15 feet farther than if you did
not accelerate. If you similarly accelerate and swerve at the same time (2) you will have
moved somewhat less than 15 feet in the forward direction. The difference could be the
difference between life and death.

If you apply the brakes instead of the throttle you will most likely guarantee that collision.

Thus, if the hazard is coming from the left you are almost always better off accelerating in a
straight line. THAT is your escape path and method.

Interestingly, if the hazard is coming from the right you are almost always better off braking. If
you can stop before your paths cross you walk away.

Turning away from a hazard (swerving) 'feels' like the right thing to do. But if severe braking
or acceleration is required you want that bike vertical to avoid loss of control. And, as
described above, swerving into oncoming traffic is crazy.

Survival argues that if you CAN stop to avoid a collision, you do so. Otherwise, if you CAN
accelerate to avoid a collision, you do so. If you cannot stop or accelerate enough to avoid
that collision, apply the brakes! Swerving to avoid cross traffic collisions is a poor choice,
almost always.

 Lead in the left or right track? (English version)
                                     By James R. Davis

You and your friend, or spouse, are out for a ride on your separate motorcycles. One of you
is more experienced, one of you is more skilled - possibly the same person. Which of you
takes the lead? Which track of the lane does that person ride in?

Let's start with a pair where one of them is essentially a newbie.

Contrary to advice I have offered elsewhere, your most experienced rider in this case belongs
in the lead. This is because it is the lead biker's responsibility to establish speed, select travel
lane, navigate, and encounter trouble first. The newbie is gaining experience and may well
be 'pushed' over their head if required to take on the many responsibilities of group lead.
And, the lead bike belongs in the right track of the lane because that is the position that
provides most visibility (for oncoming drivers as well as the lead biker.)

In the case where the least experienced rider is not a newbie (meaning, this person has
ridden in groups several times and is in complete control of their motorcycle when on the
road), then either of the motorcycles may take the lead position. The least experienced rider
may well wish to learn how to lead a group or the most experienced rider may wish to better
assess the riding skills of the other rider, for example. The safety rationale that stipulates that
the lead bike take the right track of the lane is persuasive most of the time. However, in the
case of a person who may be an experienced rider but who has NO or very little experience
riding in the lead, both riders can mutually agree that the lead will ride in the left track until
that person has gained more experience. In this case you are trading the somewhat greater
safety of lead bike in the right track with the greater safety to the lead bike of being farther
away from oncoming traffic while they are learning to cope with all the other demands of
being in the lead. This is the ONLY scenario I can think of where the lead bike can justify
being in the left track.

In the case where BOTH riders are inexperienced (at riding lead) but are reasonably skilled
riders, either can take the lead but it should be from the right track of the lane - AND group
spacing should be doubled.

In the final case where both are inexperienced (at riding lead) and are relatively unskilled
riders, then they are well advised NOT to ride as a group. If they intend to ride 'together' then
they should do so in single file with twice the normal group spacing between them. This is a
pair that should find an experienced lead bike to tutor them in group riding or otherwise obtain
group riding experience while gaining riding skills before they ride as a group of two together.

                        Not your Lady - or Child
                                   By James R. Davis

Though not all, and perhaps not most, motorcyclists carry a passenger from time to time,
there are occasions when you might wish to do so.

Most often that happens when you wish to share the good feeling of being on two wheels with
your lady or she has decided that she would like you to give her a ride on that motorcycle.
The problem is that you have never done it before and wonder how to get experience before
trying it the first time for real.

My advice is simple: Your lady is the wrong person to be your first passenger. (Your
CHILD is an even worse choice!)

Your first passenger should only be an experienced motorcycle rider. Period.

That rider/passenger KNOWS what they are getting into and the risks involved and can be
depended upon not to cause you problems while you are learning how to handle your bike
with a passenger aboard.

[YOU have been a passenger before, right? If not, you need to experience the total lack of
control and dependence a passenger has on the rider before even thinking about mounting a
passenger on your bike!!!]

Your first passenger should meet you at and mount your bike on a practice range (typically,
an abandoned open parking lot) - that is, you do NOT travel on city streets with your first
passenger in order to get to a practice range - and with that passenger on your pillion you
MUST practice mounting, dismounting, starting, stopping, backing up, and low speed turns.
You must NOT leave that practice range with your passenger until your stops are ALWAYS
smooth (and without foot 'hops') and you can make 90 degree slow speed turns without (ever)
a need to slap the ground with your down leg to keep the bike upright.

Grin and bear it - you WILL be awkward and less than smooth the first time. An experienced
rider will understand that.

Putting an inexperienced person on the pillion for your first passenger is the best way to
damage the 'relationship' and most likely will cause that person to NEVER get on a
motorcycle again. You can be sure that you will NOT impress your lady. Surely that's not
your objective, right?

             Lead bike Alert - Follower Reaction
                                   By James R. Davis

Among the many responsibilities of the lead bike is communications. Whether the lead bike
has (or uses) a CB or not, it is essential for the safety of the group that signals be used to
convey much needed information.

An obstruction in the road, for example, must be pointed out - literally by pointing at it.

An expected lane change needs to be announced using turn signal lights. (Note that many
groups tend to also use left arm signals announcing left or right turns but I am completely
against that particular practice as having two hands on the grips is far too important,
particularly if speed adjustments are being made in anticipation of the turn.)

There are lots of group specific hand signals that have come about over time. For example,
patting the top of the head, in some groups, means 'smoky' (a policeman) ahead. Hand on
top of the helmet forming a knife edge vertically means, to some groups, 'ride in single file'
while in others the left arm pointing up at a ninety degree angle with a single finger pointed to
the sky means the same thing.

Whatever the group practices are they should be announced at a pre-ride briefing so that all
will understand them.

But one signal does not seem to get mentioned very often yet it turns out to be the most
important one of all - the 'general warning' or 'Caution-Warning-Danger' signal.

Whenever the lead bike sees something, anything, that might become a threat to the group or
that may require the group to slow down or stop quickly then the lead bike must double tap
his/her front brake to advise the rest of the group. This double tap of the front brake causes a
double flash of the brake lights. Whenever you see a double flash of brake lights ahead of
you your reasonable and automatic response MUST BE to duplicate the signal (with a double
tap of your own) and then to SLOW DOWN.

This accomplishes three things at once: it passes along the warning; it insures that your
brakes are 'covered', and it adds space between you and the bike ahead just in case you will
need it.

If it turns out that the threat is not real, nothing has been lost.

If, after 10 seconds or so nothing has happened, you can resume normal spacing and speed.

This is such a fundamentally important and useful signal it should become an international
standard, in my opinion.

                      Going through the motions
                                      By James R. Davis

An interesting observation made by Elaine today was about how, over time, form follows
function (from an evolutionary point of view.) As a result, ask any biology student and you will
learn that you can tell with high confidence just what things an animal (indeed, any organism)
can do based on the form taken by their bodies. It was earlier 'determined' that certain
function led to more likely survival and form evolved to permit or enhance that functionality.

But form is NOT the same as function. And form follows function - it is function that counts.

We all know that doing a 'head check' is important before making a change of lanes or
entering an intersection. We usually do just that. But just how often have you found that the
head check was really just going through the motions?

I remember quite well several occasions where I have done my head check then began to
make my move only to suddenly wake up to the fact that I saw something during that check
that was dangerous. I mean, I saw, but began my move before it registered what it was that I
saw. My 'form' was perfect, but I was NOT functioning well. I was either distracted or so sure
that it was clear because of a recent 'focused' check in the same direction that I didn't expect
to find anything with that head check, and when there was something found, unexpectedly, I
had already begun to make my move. Now that's dangerous!

So, we're not perfect. We do our 'best' most of the time. We know what we should do and
most of us conscientiously try to do those things that tend to keep us out of trouble. But form
is not function.

When we do a head check, for example, it is not merely to turn our heads so that our eyes
CAN see danger, but we do them so that we WILL see danger if it's there. That means we
must not allow ourselves to be lulled into believing all is right with the world just because it's
supposed to be that way.

Expectations of 'rightness' dull our abilities to SEE what is not right - at the very least, it slows
down our ability to react to what is not right.

Form is not enough - function counts, form does not. And if you function properly you are
more likely to survive!

                                       By design?
                                     By James R. Davis

You think hitting the ground during an unscheduled dismount is going to be painful? Have
you taken a look at what you are sitting behind lately?

Many motorcycles are designed with the rider sitting in a well behind a raised tank. Should
you run into something with a bike designed like that you are subject to massive pelvic and
groin injuries long before you hit the ground.

Some bikes have a faux tank that you sit behind which are bristling with controls and gauges.
Though some, like the GoldWing, are well designed in the sense that the controls are flat
allowing you to slide over them on the way to that dismount, some people feel compelled to
add 'custom designed' gauges and controls of their own and those are typically dangerous in
the extreme. Your pelvis may not sustain the same degree of injury as it would ramming into
a raised tank, but a meaningful part of your groin could be left behind on your way over the
handlebars when it encounters one of those 'designer' items on the way.

Some people have mounted soft luggage on their tanks. These might actually provide some
measure of protection during a dismount. That is, unless that luggage contains sharp objects
or breakable glass in them.

I know we don't plan to ever dismount a bike by going over the handlebars, but it amazes me
that some people (especially motorcycle designers) are thoughtless as to the potential
consequences of their choices.

                          Swerve or Panic Stop?
                                     By James R. Davis

It doesn't happen very often but even while travelling on a freeway you can suddenly be
confronted with an animal in your path. Certainly it happens with some frequency in the
country, and on city streets you must be ever concerned about usually domesticated types.

Those of us who ride in the country tend to confront five types of animals with some
regularity: deer, dogs, cattle, birds and horses in roughly that order of frequency. On surface
streets there are usually just two varieties: dogs and children (both an animal and wildlife in
my book.) Dogs on a freeway are usually road kill before you get to them.

If you see an animal in your path, given plenty of warning, the obvious best move is to slow
down and give it as wide a clearance as possible. However, in the case of an animal that
'was in front of me out of nowhere' situations, you have an immediate decision to make ... to
swerve and try to avoid it, or to panic stop.

That is a false choice to make! If you think that you can figure out where a deer is going to be
in the next 5 seconds, you are dead wrong! But more than that, if you think that you can, in a
panic, swerve your motorcycle and retain control of it - not run into oncoming traffic, or the
side of the mountain, or off the road, or oversteer it into a crash after avoiding the animal, or
swerve right into the animal which has jumped into your new path, then you are probably also
of the opinion that it can't happen to you in any event.

If you hit a cement truck at 5 mph you will probably walk away from it. If you hit ANYTHING
while travelling at 50 mph or faster, you probably will not. The difference is your speed.
Swerving does not reduce your speed. What it will do is give away some control.

Your best move is almost always to try a CONTROLLED panic stop. Do not lose control of
your bike. Minimize the speed of impact. If you are good, and practiced, you might not hit
anything at all. Even if luck is against you will probably still walk away from it.

I can hear it now: "Even if it's a child?" Absolutely! If that child decides to make a dash for
his/her life and chooses (like you) the wrong direction to run in, then you will hit that child with
a greater (faster) impact swerving to avoid him/her than if you try to stop the bike.

Of course you aren't doing 50 mph or greater on city streets, right? You are covering your
front brake while riding on city streets, right?

Play the odds in your head before you get into the situation. Condition yourself - bias yourself
- panic stops are not a bad thing.

                                    By: James R. Davis

Living in Texas I have my fair share of days that are too hot to wear my leathers. While I will
wear my chaps no matter how hot it gets, I've been known to substitute a lighter jacket or
even just a long sleeve shirt when the temp gets near or over 100 degrees.

But there are times when taking off that heavy jacket makes no sense at all - regardless of the

If you are like me, you do some parking lot practice every so often. We are not out there
practicing what comes easy. Instead, we spend the time to practice those things that we
need to get better at.

In other words, when we are most likely to lose control and have a (hopefully) little accident.
This is, after all, why you wear protective clothing, right? Clearly it is not a time to take that
jacket off. (Or gloves.)

I remember a few years ago when Elaine and I were out in the country and we had to ride
down a gravel road. Elaine was quite new to motorcycle riding at the time and she was on
her own bike.

It turned out that about two miles down that road Elaine was so uncomfortable from the sweat
that resulted from the stress (and heat) that she said on the CB that she wanted to stop and
take off her leather jacket.

I reminded her why she was wearing that jacket and that the odds of her dumping her bike
along this road were a little more than trivial. She understood right away and we went on -

(It turns out that we had MILES to go on that damn road. We probably should have stopped
and shed some clothes to cool off while standing next to the bikes, then put the jackets back
on before finishing the ride.)

Anyway, the message is simple: You wear that jacket for protection. If the odds of an
accident go up, for any reason, it is not the time to be shedding that protection.

                                    By: James R. Davis

It's a beautiful day. Weather is perfect, traffic is light, you are home and need to get
someplace ... soon. You are late.

The bike is agile and you're sure you can get there faster on the bike than you can by taking
the car.


The last thing in the world you should consider doing is taking the bike in this scenario. That
would be a prescription for minimizing the odds of arriving at all. This is the kind of situation
that, on the surface, appears to be an ideal time to take a bike, yet it is a perfect example of a
situation that can get you in over your head and into an accident in the blink of an eye.

When you are running late you will take chances that are just plain stupid. (Been there.
Done that.) You will tend to drive a bit too fast. You will tend to try to make that yellow light
that you wouldn't dream of trying at a more rational time. You will pass traffic that needn't be
passed, and probably follow too closely before you do so.

"I can make it" fills your mind - hope, rather than fact that inspires a 'little more' risk taking.

T-boning a vehicle in an intersection or getting slammed to the ground after overshooting a
curve might inspire a 'Just my luck' thought - possibly your last one. It's anything but luck if
you put yourself into the situation.

Running late? Take the car.

Better, make it a practice to be a little bit early rather than a little bit late. This is one habit that
can save you grief - big time.

                  Let you helmet save your 'face'
                                      By: James R. Davis

Once upon a time a motorcycle rider was travelling along a city street, minding his own
business, when all of a sudden a car entered an intersection directly ahead of him and
stopped - right in the middle of that intersection. The biker 'climbed on his brakes, hard', and
though he was only travelling at 20 to 25 MPH, his rear tire 'hit some gravel', and the rear-end
of the bike came around quickly and he low-sided. The bike slid away from him on its left

Neither he nor the bike hit the car in the intersection. That car simply drove away from the
scene of the 'accident', possibly unaware that it had even happened.

The motorcyclist, however, sustained major bruises and torn clothes and gloves, though no
broken bones, and the bike had little damage as well - the left mirror was broken off. The
biker's helmet was scarred, and a hole was worn through his gloves - causing him severe
road rash and abrasions to his hand.
  Who was at fault?
  How credible are the 'facts' presented?
  What was done wrong?
  Could this accident have been avoided?
Let's consider these questions one at a time.

It is not illegal to stop in the middle of an intersection (except in some jurisdictions which insist
that you may enter an intersection only if you can safely pass through it.) Sometimes
situations are such that you simply must do so. While not the brightest thing in the world for a
driver to do, as the car managed to safely get into that position, he owned the intersection
while he was in it.

The motorcyclist could not have suddenly found a car directly ahead of him, stopped,
crosswise, in the intersection without having seen that vehicle enter the intersection, unless
he was not paying attention at all or the intersection was 'blind' (meaning that it was just past
the crest of a hill, for example.) Let us assume that he saw the car enter the intersection and
then stop. At this point the motorcyclist could either swerve and go around the vehicle
(probably behind it), or stop. At the very least, he should be slowing down if there is any
possibility that he might hit the vehicle from the moment he notices it entering the intersection,
or he is about to crest a hill rendering him blind as to what is ahead of him.

One more fact to take note of, even after the lay down and slide on its side, neither the bike
nor the motorcyclist hit the vehicle - they both came to a stop before doing so. As a sliding
bike cannot slow down as quickly as a bike can with its brakes applied (while still on its tires),
the motorcyclist could EASILY have stopped safely without hitting the car. (Nothing was said
about being on a downslope, but if such was the case, it could take longer to stop than the
time available - another reason to slow down.)

It is clear from the above that the motorcyclist is the cause of his own accident.

As to the credibility of the facts ... it is a dead certainty that the motorcycle had been travelling
faster than 25 MPH at the time he applied his brakes. (For those of you who have attended
the MSF, you know that virtually anyone can stop a motorcycle going 20 MPH in less than 23
feet without losing control on a normal pavement, flat slope surface.) That the back end
broke away and the bike then low-sided and continued to slide thereafter is further indication
of faster speed. It takes almost exactly the same amount of time to skid to a stop at 25 MPH
as it does for the bike to fall over (which is what is happening during a low-side.) That is, if
the brakes were applied at 25 MPH, the bike would have been virtually stopped when it
landed on its side.

The claimed speed of 20 to 25 MPH is not credible, or the facts fail to show being on a severe

Some guesses and a certainty about what was done wrong. First, the motorcyclist appears
not to have noticed the threat of the vehicle until it was already stopped in the intersection.
Either he was distracted, or not paying attention to what was happening in front of him.

Second, he was apparently travelling faster than he thought he was. Probably too fast for
conditions based on the resulting accident.

Third, he aggressively used his brakes (including the rear). It NEVER makes sense to
aggressively use the rear brake.

Fourth, he lost control of his motorcycle. (You do what you have to do - at 25 MPH it is hard
to lose control - but possible.)

As to the last question - could it have been avoided ... of course.

The title of this article is 'Reality Check'. Next time you hear a fellow motorcyclist explain the
accident that he was in, think it through. Do not assume that he is not telling the truth, despite
'facts' like those presented here. An accident causes lots of adrenaline and perspectives
warp. He may believe what he says even if the facts cannot be as he claims them to be.

Besides, we all try to save 'face'. A little fudging here or there is normal, I suppose. But your
life depends on maintaining control of your bike at all times, and understanding the reality of a
situation, and acting accordingly, with pre-emptive defence, need never have to be
explained. Let your helmet save your face.

                     Does NOT Provide Stability
                                    By: James R. Davis

Like other folklore, a popular misconception is making its round within the motorcycle
community that is simply wrong - and dangerous to you should you believe it - that speed
provides a motorcycle's stability.

Indeed, even the MSF teaches this inaccuracy to its students during the first day of range
work. So how, do you suppose, can they explain the following fact?
  If you lock your rear brake while travelling at 100 MPH your bike will fall over.
I received correspondence today from a person who wished to discuss high side avoidance
techniques. He trotted out what he said an MSF instructor had told his class: if you lock your
rear brake and cause a skid, all you have to do is look forward and keep your head vertical
and your bike will come to a stop without falling over (if you keep your brakes applied.) He
said that the instructor told the class that the rear-end of the bike would not slide out from
under them, but would, instead, 'fishtail' (wander back and forth from side to side.)

That advice is entirely correct - ONLY at speeds less than about 20 MPH. (The speed at
which you are instructed to be going during their rear-brake lock and skid exercise on the

Speed is NOT what provides stability (or ease of balance) to a motorcycle. Rather, it is the
enormous strength of the gyroscopic force generated by your spinning rear wheel. Since
that spinning rear wheel is directly connected to the frame of the motorcycle (unlike your front
wheel), it affects the stability and ease of balance of about 80% of the mass involved
(including you.)

Should you lock your rear brake, thus stopping the rotation of the rear wheel, your bike will fall
over in a matter of seconds - far less time than it takes to stop when travelling at any
meaningful speed!!! This is what causes your rear-end to slide out from under you, and
cannot explain or support a fishtailing - once it starts to fall to one side or the other there is
nothing the direction you are looking at can do to cause the bike to change gravity and try to
fall UP rather than DOWN.

There is NEVER a time when it makes sense to aggressively use your rear brake - NEVER -
WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Not even during an MSF range exercise. Refuse to do it - it is not
mandatory (at least if you have some form of integrated brakes.) I wonder why.

              Your helmet is inadequate defence
                                    By: James R. Davis

A recent survey on my system has revealed that the vast majority of visitors here engage in
touring activities with their bikes (based on the sample that responded.)

I thought it would be appropriate, therefore, to post an article on a threat that is largely
restricted to those of us that ride our bikes over long distances and over the years. That
threat is to the loss of your ability to hear. As you read further you will find that it has already
happened to you, it will get worse, and that your helmet is an inadequate defence against it.

                                                              I know, you're thinking that I am
                                                              about to rag on the Harley-
                                                              Davidson sound. Wrong. While it's
                                                              true that loud pipes will result in
                                                              faster and more profound hearing
                                                              damage, it's not the motorcycle
                                                              sounds that are the principal cause
                                                              of that damage. Indeed, even if
                                                              your motorcycle makes no sound
                                                              whatever, long distant, long
                                                              duration motorcycle riding
                                                              damages your hearing.

                                                              It turns out that wind noise does the
                                                              most damage to your hearing. It is
                                                              constant, loud, and very difficult to
                                                              get away from.

                                                              At highway speeds you will find that
                                                              wind noise is well over 100 db,
                                                              even when wearing a helmet!
                                                              Wearing a helmet cuts the noise by
                                                              only about 3 db, and then only if it
                                                              is at least a 3/4 shell and properly
                                                              fitted. (An improperly fitted helmet
                                                              actually INCREASES wind
                                                              noise!!!) ONE HOURS of exposure
                                                              to 110 db will damage your
                                                              hearing. At 115 db it takes only 15
                                                              MINUTES. The damage is
                                                              relentless, irreversible, and

                                                              Following is a chart demonstrating
                                                              wind noise at 30 MPH and 60 MPH
                                                              within various brands of helmets as
                                                              published in a 1991 issue of
                                                              Motorcycle Magazine.
                                                               What can be done about this?
                                                              How can we protect our hearing
                                                              from wind noise?

Well, first, you can make sure that you wear a helmet, that it is at least a 3/4 shell, and that it
fits properly. A properly fitted helmet has a lining that presses against the skin on your
cheeks as well as across your forehead. Not only does your helmet not shift around on your
head when it fits properly, but it cuts wind noise from reaching your ears.

Second, you can wear earplugs. There are some problems associated with doing this, not
withstanding the fact that in some states it is illegal to do so. (You can legally drive a
motorcycle if you are deaf, but not wear earplugs - fancy that.) Aside from the law, many
people simply cannot stand (or get used to) wearing them. And, if they are improperly
inserted, provide very little noise reduction benefit and will hurt in no time at all.

Earplugs are cheap. You can buy good quality earplugs by the dozens and their cost will be
less than $1 a pair when you do so. (I cannot imagine buying one pair and reusing them day
after day - what a foolish way to save a penny.) If earplugs are not for you, then try small
pieces of cotton. They are more comfortable, though not nearly as effective, and I'll
guarantee you don't reuse them just to save a penny or two.

Wearing earplugs of any kind, it seems to me, is counter-productive at speeds below about 40
MPH. But if you ride our highways for any distance at all you will CERTAINLY be better off
having worn them (and, by the way, you will actually be able to hear better with them in your
ear than not at those speeds.)

Just because your hearing is already a 'little' damaged from wind noise you should not think it
can't get worse. Riding a motorcycle at highway speeds is a GUARANTEED way to damage
your hearing - and potentially profoundly. The majority of our hearing needs involve
frequencies below 16 KHz. These sounds are what we use when we talk (and listen.) These
also happen to be the frequencies most affected by wind noise hearing damage.

Or, if you prefer to ignore this bit of advice, practice saying 'Huh?' But don't get used to doing
that - expecting this minor inconvenience to work forever. Your hearing will get worse.

For perspective, a noisy restaurant produces about 80 db of noise. A subway
produces about 90 db of noise. A rock band generates about 110 db, a car horn is
about 115 db, and a gunshot is about 140 db.

Osha says that hearing loss can begin at 90 db. Max safe exposure at 110 db is 1 hour,
and only 15 minutes to sounds in excess of 115 db.

                  Depending on when you buy it
                                    By: James R. Davis

It is time to fill the scooter up. There are gas stations everywhere and you happen to prefer a
particular brand. You have always had good and consistent performance from their gasoline
and always use the same grade.

Fortunately, there is a station just ahead sporting their logo.

Is that all you have to know?

Usually. However, if you fill your tank at this particular station, now, you are asking for trouble
in the form of bad performance and even repair bills soon!

But you have purchased gasoline from this particular station many times in the past, and will
no doubt continue to do so.

Does that change anything?

No. If you purchase gasoline from this station now you are asking for trouble.

You see, there is not a lot of room in the station just now as there is a tanker truck taking up a
lot of space - or you just saw one leaving.

Space is a problem?

No. But underground there are a set of huge tanks containing gasoline. And Water. And
silt. And other 'stuff'.

The name brand station across the street has the same kind of underground tanks, and it
would be FAR BETTER to buy your gasoline there just now.

Because they have the same kind of tanks?


Because they don't have water and silt and other 'stuff' in those tanks?

No. Because a tanker truck is not sitting on the lot, or having just left.


Most of the time the extraneous water and silt and 'stuff' in those tanks is safely settled to the
bottom of those underground tanks. When you pump gasoline from them you are not getting
virtually any of it into the tank on your motorcycle (or car.) And, despite the fact that your
motorcycle has fuel filters and screens built into them, this is good because you would rather
not have your engine stall because of a clogged fuel line, or get poor performance because of
trying to burn water.

But when those tankers add their loads to those underground tanks they do a marvellous job
of stirring and mixing up those tanks. It could take an hour or so for the adulterants to settle
back to the bottom.

If you see a tanker in the lot, or one is just pulling out, go to another station for your

                            Sensible Approaches
                                     By Elaine Anthony

A group of experienced tour riders I know started a rider safety conversation recently about
sensible ways to handle a ‘red light is stuck’ situation. While automobile drivers usually have
little reason to notice signal light sensors and how they work, the information that was shared
may be quite interesting to motorcyclists. I can’t say that this information is ‘gospel,’ but it
sounded pretty accurate to me.

First, there are two types of signal lights: timed traffic signals (signals that follow a sequence
based solely on time) and actuated signals (signals that alter their sequence based on
demand). Actuated signals are activated by vehicle detectors.

Several types of vehicle detectors are in use today in the United States. These include 1)
video cameras that detect movement; 2) radar units that detect movement; 3) sonar units that
detect distance to an object; 4) magnetic sensors that detect changes in the earth’s magnetic
field caused by moving metal; and 5) loop detectors. Video cameras, radar, sonar and laser
detectors are being used for various kinds of traffic control; some are already installed on the
Houston freeways and on toll roads. Especially at rural intersections with fitful traffic patterns,
signal lights may be video controlled. In most cities and states, however, loop detectors are

A loop detector is the most popular device used to govern traffic signals, probably accounting
for more than 90% of the detectors in use in the United States. These work just like a metal
detector. Typically, three or four turns of wire are placed in or below the pavement in a 6'x6'
loop. Multiple loops may be installed to extend the detector’s coverage area.

Some riders who are faced with a ‘stuck’ red light may think that a Gold Wing or other
motorcycle isn’t ‘heavy enough’ to trip the sensor. Clearly this does not happen at all
intersections, but most riders know of one or two where the lights regularly fail to change
when they pull up on their bike, but change for a car. Does weight make a difference?

Because the sensor is a metal detector, a vehicle’s weight doesn't really affect it. It reacts to
only the presence of metal (or an electromagnetic field). Most of these loop sensors merely
serve as an antenna known as a whetstone bridge. When a certain mass of iron interferes
with the balance of the circuit, the circuit reacts. If the electrical value of the antenna/bridge
changes in any way, the voltage will be changed, triggering a relay to switch the lights. These
sensors detect large masses of metal, and a touring bike surely qualifies. A sensor may be
out of adjustment, however.

The sensitivity of a loop detector varies due to a number of parameters. It is affected by its
front panel sensitivity setting, the number of turns of wire in the loop, the number of loops that
are connected to one detector unit (the electronics of the device is called a detector amplifier),
and the length of wire connecting the loop(s) to its detector unit. Additionally, a loop can be
incorrectly installed right next to concrete rebar, which tends to overwhelm any signal coming
from vehicles above. It is also possible to put a loop too far below the surface of the

While you are sitting there "stuck at the light," one additional thing to remember is that the
traffic signal may forget you’re there. In the case of motion detectors, the device’s memory
must be turned on. (Also note that it does no good to roll up slowly to an intersection that
employs a motion detector). But with loop detectors, because they detect presence, memory
is often turned off. Turning it off prevents the signal from constantly changing for vehicles that
have made a right-turn-on-red. However, if your bike goes beyond the detection zone, the
device will forget you, and you’ll sit and sit.

There are some tips that may help you outwit these witless devices. First, start noticing where
they are. Traffic intersections are often grooved so that detector loops can be buried. Grooves
may run both perpendicular to and parallel with the direction of travel. If the paving contractor
installs the wire loops after paving the road, you may see the saw cracks from loop
installation. If you can't see the loop, you can usually presume it is a 6’x6’ loop, cantered in
the lane and probably six to twelve feet behind the stop bar.

Thus, if a motorcyclist can’t depend on a car to trigger a signal light to change, then the best
place to stop for a signal light is probably three feet to the side of the centre of the lane, with
the front tire about six feet behind the stop bar.

Before you decide to run a red light that’s ‘stuck,’ here are a couple of other ideas you might
want to consider (besides checking in your mirror):

  Pass your motorcycle directly over the lines marking the perimeter of the sensor.
  You may even roll back a couple of feet to help the sensor "see" the bike. Depending
  on where other traffic is stopped or moving nearby, this may or may not be possible.
  After sitting through one cycle of the lights, some people put their side stand (or
  centre stand) down -- the idea being that having actual metal touch the road helps.
  You might position your bike right on top of the "line" cut into the pavement, then
  hit the kill switch and restart your engine. On a marginally maladjusted sensor, this
  may create enough of a magnetic field to trip the light. (Another suggestion is to hit
  your starter button without turning your engine off, as it will have a similar effect.)
  If you know you must cross a dangerous intersection where this problem often
  exists and you have not been able to get it fixed by your local officials, consider
  changing your route or going around an extra block to avoid the intersection.
  If there is a "pedestrian button", consider getting off the bike and pressing that
If nothing else works, especially for a group of riders committed to a particular course of
travel, wait until traffic clears, then run the red light carefully. You may want to wait through
more than one full cycle before taking this course of action, to be sure you are not perceived
by other drivers as simply flaunting the law.

If you know of traffic lights in your area which routinely fail to change in response to the
presence of a bike, the sensitivity of the detector is out of adjustment. Out-of-adjustment
sensors should be reported to your state highway department or to the agency responsible for
maintaining local traffic controls.

                               (Ticket Avoidance)
                                     By James R. Davis

Ever find yourself riding on a surface street in a 35 MPH zone and suddenly wake up and find
yourself doing 50 MPH, or more? (Or did the policeman tell you your speed after he stopped
you as he was writing up your speeding ticket?)

Let's face it, we are used to riding our bikes a lot faster than 35 MPH and it is difficult to keep
the scooters from 'automatically' getting up to speed - they like it up there. Sure, there are a
few speed freaks that think nothing of doing 50 MPH in a 35 MPH zone, but most people
reading this are not likely that type.

So, here's a tip that will reduce the number of tickets you get for inadvertent speeding to zero:
  When riding on surface streets always run in a lower gear than you need

Simple, huh?

When I ride in a 35 MPH zone I do it in SECOND gear! The engine races when I ease it
up over that speed and that's all it takes to remind me that I'm in a speed zone. Most of
our surface street speeding tickets, I think, are the result of not thinking at all about
how fast we are going and relying on the sound of our engines.

Lower the gear you run in and you can't help but stay conscious of your speed.

                              Above The Levers
                                    By James R. Davis

If your feet are on your pegs you are probably doing this anyway, but an incident just
occurred that reminded me to post an article to at least raise your consciousness level.

It seems that a rider was making a sweeping right-handed turn when the tip of his pointed-toe
boot struck the ground. This caused a massive torque to his foot and dragged it off the peg,
severely injuring the ankle in the process.

Apparently the rider was not more seriously injured and he did not lose control of his bike, but
either or both could have happened in the blink of an eye.

When your feet are on the pegs your toes belong ON TOP OF the rear brake lever and above
the shifter lever. [Please note that this applies to most touring bikes where the pegs are
straight down rather than well forward of your sitting position. Many sport bikes are designed
such that you cannot keep your toes above the brake lever for any length of time without
extreme awkwardness or cramping.]

Being on top of the brake lever is obvious - you need it there to minimize the amount of time it
takes to activate that brake. Sometimes you simply need a different position of the foot in
order to relax it and prevent a cramp, I know - been there. Moving back on the peg so that the
balls of that foot rest on it is fine for awhile. Sometimes it makes sense to put the heel of that
foot on the peg. But it NEVER makes sense to put your toe UNDER the brake lever, as this
injury demonstrates.

Keeping the left toe above the shifter also makes sense for the same reason.

A few weeks ago Elaine and I were riding on a freeway and observed another rider dangle his
feet straight down in order to 'stretch'. His feet were only a fraction of an inch above the
ground when he did that. It was insane! Had a foot touched the ground his leg could have
snapped in two if a peg had caught it (drivers or passengers.)

You need to stretch? Use a highway board/peg, or stop the bike and get off it for a few

I guess it doesn't really have to be said, but if you are in a turn it doesn't make sense to have
your toes positioned like outriggers - pointing away from the bike.

Keep those toes on the brake lever and over the shifter, and you will be able to walk after you
finish the ride.

  Ride Your Own Ride AND Respect The Others
                                     By James R. Davis

When you ride in a group it is unquestionably your first priority to take care of yourself - to ride
within your limits and the limits of your bike, regardless of what the rest of the group does.
That's often been described as 'Riding your own ride'.

But you ARE in a group and that means some new responsibilities and behaviours apply. You
ride at the speed the group rides, you stay in the lanes chosen by the lead bike, You stop
when and where the group stops. Sounds a lot like you are riding THEIR ride as much as
your own, doesn't it?

In business, management has recently come to realize that 'team work' is not always the best
way to get things done. Sometimes it is better to work as a group of collaborators than as a
team. A motorcycle drill team is a clear example of team work - everybody is expected to do
no more nor less than what is required by the boss to get the job done. Independent thought
is valued, but only to the extent that it contributes to the team doing its job.

When riding in a group there is certainly some team work going on, but each and every
person in that group is expected to 'ride their own ride'. Doesn't that sound just a little bit
different to you than each person being expected to do whatever it takes to make the team
effort successful?

In collaborative efforts the assumption is that each individual is expert/proficient in some
specialty while generally being able to function in team efforts. That is a very subtle difference
in attitude. For example, in a collaborative effort, it is not unusual to find debate about what
should be done next as each individual contributes based on their expertise. What IS unusual
in a collaborative effort is that there is any rancor in these debates [well, there are sometimes
rather harsh arguments, but the point is that each member is heard and contributes based on
their specialty.] Each member RESPECTS the expertise of the other members and will
generally defer gracefully to that expertise. Further, in a collaborative effort the group will do
what the boss (lead bike) tells them to do unless there is a good reason not to.

The result is that almost invariably you have the best of the best from the best, though it looks
like team work.

Back to motorcycling in a group ... some in the group have more stamina, some have better
night vision, some have better navigation skills, some have better familiarity with the
surroundings, some have better emergency preparedness or EMS training, some are better
diplomats. You get the picture.

Respecting the skills and uniqueness’s of each of the rest of the team results in getting the
best of the best from the best. Respecting yourself is riding your own ride. Respecting the
others is collaborative group riding. The group leader/road Captain in a well functioning
collaborative effort has certain responsibilities, each of the rest have theirs, and with respect,
together they all decide on the best way to do things for the group.

Rather than the lead bike making all the decisions for the group, in a collaborative effort,
he/she will consult with the others and give serious consideration to the expertise therein.
Strategic decisions (destination) remain the leader's responsibility while tactical decisions

(how) might well come from the members. Dictatorship it's not. Nor is it a drill team. Rather, it
is a group of 'professionals' engaged in a cooperative effort designed for the benefit of all.
Safe arrival and a good time with maximum contribution and participation by each may look
like team work, but is more.

This is merely a proposed way to organize and function in a group. I posted it to invite you to
think about it and, possibly, to create a new dynamic in how we all function when riding as a

Ride smart.

                          Fullface Fit and Usage
                                    By James R. Davis

There are lots of reasons to use a fullface helmet, but you won't unless the one you choose
fits properly.

Believe me when I tell you that no two brands of helmets will fit quite the same, despite being
marked with the same sizes. (It is maybe more important to note that no two heads are
shaped the same despite being able to wear similarly sized helmets.)

That should tell you that expecting to wear a helmet gifted to you or that happened to come
with a bike you buy is a long shot, at best. Oh, you may find it 'wearable' for a few hundred
miles, but if you take a serious trip on your bike and that helmet was not selected for proper
fit, you can plan on not being comfortable for long or a desire to end that trip long before you
had planned to.

There are three issues involved in proper fit:

  Snugness - Your helmet must not be able to twist or 'lift' because of the wind

  Forehead - Your helmet must not leave a red mark/indentation on your forehead
  Ear holes - Your helmet must not be able to fold or even press constantly on your
Proper snugness of a NEW helmet is found when the liner presses firmly (but not tight or
uncomfortably) against your cheeks. There should be no gap between cheeks and liner on a
new helmet. After a few weeks the liner will form fit (because of compression) to the point that
you will not notice any tightness against your cheeks, though the liner will remain in gentle
contact with both.

Once the snugness issue is dealt with you can deal with forehead fit. Invariably you will notice
an area of redness on a part of your forehead after wearing a new fullface helmet for several
minutes. You can cure that with the use of a large spoon. Use the back side of that spoon and
compress the Styrofoam in the part of the helmet causing the marks. You will not have to
remove the helmet liner to do this.

After you assure that the cheeks and forehead are fit properly you need to assure that your
ears are not contacted in any way while wearing the helmet. Whether you have had
earphones installed or not it is imperative that your ears are free from contact. To cure any

problems you will have to pull away the liner and use a knife and cut away part of the
Styrofoam around the ear wells within the helmet. A little too much is FAR preferable than not
enough! (After an hour of wearing a helmet that binds your ears in any way you will be in
simply awful pain - Honest! Trust me!)

Now that your helmet is properly fitted consider buying and using a skull cap with it. Two

  You can wash the skull cap but you cannot wash the helmet liner

  You can soak the skull cap in water before putting it on and it will keep you nice and
  cool on very hot days
By the way, you might want to fold the earflaps up so that they do not touch your ears when
you put your helmet on. Honest! Trust me!

              Overtaking and Trucker-Tailgating
                                    By Elaine Anthony

On our recent trip to North Carolina and back, first for reasons of getting to a wedding on
time, and then for coming home unexpectedly fast for a funeral, Jim and I rode the interstates
almost exclusively. We did a little less than 3,000 miles in eight 'riding days,' with two of them
averaging only a hundred miles while we visited in the area.

Here are some thoughts I had while riding those miles and miles of highway.

First, the American highway network is a work of art, no question. By and large the road
surfaces are smooth, with decent shoulders, clear signage, and fast speed limits. Not that the
speed limits matter much to most of the traffic... Some areas are scenic by happenstance, but
the routing is designed purely to be efficient. Across the South especially, the major roads
tend to run straight for a long, long way, without landmark or feature. There are very few
curves, although from West to East by the inland route, the road rises steadily.

The US interstate highway system is geared to the transportation of goods to accommodate
interstate commerce, and that means trucks 'rule.' Advertising, lodgings, restaurants and now
gambling facilities are all geared toward serving the trucking population, with the individual or
family tourist who is passing through coming in a distant second. Gasoline is available at
marked exits only, even when there may be lodgings or fast food places (for truckers) at other
exits in-between. (If the exit sign doesn't say 'gas,' there IS no gas. Don't ask how I know.)
And, no surprise, you can expect to see huge numbers of trucks on these roads.

All this is not news to motorcyclists who tour regularly, but if you are contemplating a trip
cross-country you may want to take note that 'huge numbers' means 'MOST of the other
vehicles on the road.' Passenger cars are out there, too, but as a rider your orientation to
riding the interstates will inevitably focus on dealing with trucks and truckers.

Big rigs present particular hazards that can be deadly to motorcyclists. A blowout on a car will
sometimes throw a piece of tire tread into the road, endangering any rider who is following it
at the moment; but by observation of the roads in your area, you know it's mostly truck tires

that come apart. The tread off an 18-wheeler is enormous, certainly big enough to knock a
Gold Wing off its wheels, and the force with which it comes apart is horrific.

Another feature of trucks is their design. Because they are made for fast switching of their
cargo - nowadays trucks haul boxcars on wheels - the cab and trailer are often separate:
separately owned and maintained. The driver is supposed to safety-check his trailer regularly,
but he will not know its history.

Note that with this articulated cab and trailer system, the driver loses sight of the rear of his rig
when he makes a turn, assuming he's looking where he's going and not in his mirrors. Some
drivers are good at tight turns, some not so good.

This can be important at truck stops and in little towns, if you have to go into one. I had one
18-wheeler cut back to within a foot of my elbow as I sat in the left turn lane in Ferriday, LA,
Thursday morning. I had seen him there when we pulled up at the light, getting ready to make
a right turn my way, so I stopped farther back in the turn lane than normal, to give him a few
extra feet for clearance. He took every bit of it, and still the back tires on his rig went over the
curb! Like a motorcyclist, the trucker drove forward into the turn, slowed, looked right, and
then 'rolled on' the juice. This means he was accelerating as he made the last part of the turn
and started to straighten out, when he was closest to me. 'Grrrrrind, swooosh!' We know it
can be hard for a rider to safely brake just as you start to accelerate through a turn. With a
similar dynamic working on that big rig (in this case, for reasons of momentum), it would have
been impossible for him to stop without hitting me if he had misjudged that foot of space.

It may surprise the riders who don't hang out around big rigs that there are rows upon rows of
instruments in the cab of today's trucks, at least in the ones that haul for a major line. Jim
asked for permission from a fellow fuelling up outside Columbia, SC, for me to crawl up into
the cab and look around. It looked like an airplane control panel! There were gauges and
buttons and switches covering the dash. It also seems like you're on top of the world when
you look down at the road. Point: if you were driving one of these, aiming it down a thin,
straight lane for hours, the opportunity to be distracted from watching the road is great.

On a long day of riding, overtaking trucks is the only game out there for a motorcyclist on the
interstates. In order to try to ride at a constant speed to maximize gas mileage and make
steady time, there are some tricks that I learned for passing, and being passed.

As for being passed, it's simple: get out of their way. Move to the far side of the road from the
passing lane to diminish the wind blast that will come your way. It starts before the truck is
next to you, from all the air being pushed to the side and forward as it rolls at speed. Be
prepared to be moved involuntarily as much as half a lane to the side of your path of travel,
and that's if you're maintaining a strong grip, good forward focus and firm control. Choose
your path so that you allow for this sideways movement and don't run off the road.

After about half of the truck's trailer has passed, you may experience the opposite tendency,
to be pulled toward the truck's back wheels. A slipstream shaped like a teardrop is formed in
the air turbulence created behind the truck, and some (but not all) truck rigs will try to suck
you into it. So do not move back toward the truck to re-establish a left (i.e., lead bike) lane
position until it is well away from you.

Try to create as much of a gap as you can between yourself and trucks that are behind you in
the same lane. They will use the terrain to maximize their gas mileage, too, which means they
really get rolling on the downhills if they can. Speed limits do not matter during these
manoeuvres, and being tailgated by a big rig going 95 mph will certainly wake you up!
(Remember the MSF lesson on planning escape routes?)

A word about relative speeds: Jim and I were commonly running between 75 mph and 80
mph on the interstates. We were constantly passed by huge trucks doing 100. This was
especially true in Alabama and Georgia, where the roads are beautifully maintained. The
state troopers were out in fair numbers, but they only seem to catch a few of the most
egregious speeders, and many big rig drivers go extremely fast with impunity.

On passing: When you decide to pass an 18-wheeler, try to choose an uphill stretch to do it
in. [Unless, of course, you are on a single-lane road. This article is about multiple-lane
freeway travel.] The truck will slow for an incline more than you will on your bike, and this will
give you a chance to put some major distance between your vehicles so that it will not catch
up to you and tailgate, or pass you again, on the next downhill run. Plan your manoeuvre.
Ideally, you want to pull out into the fast lane just before you reach the bottom of the incline,
as you are starting up, and then use all your acceleration for straight-line, uphill driving as you

You will have to burn more gas to pass on an incline, but you will get by the truck faster,
minimizing other risks, like having a tire on the rig blowout when you're next to it, or having
the driver lose sight of you and try to pull into your lane to pass a slower truck.

Remember to listen to truck tires! We started into one passing manoeuvre outside Villa Rico,
GA on Tuesday, just after we'd made a fairly long rest stop at a big truck fuelling centre. We
came to a hill behind a large red truck we'd been following for a couple of miles, and I
signalled to pass. I got up to within five feet of the truck's back wheels, and suddenly I heard a
loud, rhythmic 'whomp, whomp' from the truck's right side. I couldn't see anything strange, but
I couldn't tell where that was coming from or what was making it, so I shook my head and
backed off. We tucked in behind the rig a few moments later, giving it a good clearance, and I
just let it go. We slowed from 80 to 60 mph for a few minutes to be sure it was gone, and then
resumed our cruising speed.

I don't know whether the noise was a tire that would soon come apart, or whether the truck's
right wheels were striking the Bott's dots on the shoulder for a few turns. There was no turn
signal from the truck that he was intending to pull off, and the truck was too wide for me
gauge where it was on the other side. I didn't like it, though, so we dropped back. We may
have passed him later, or he may have stayed way ahead of us, or we may have leapfrogged
with him at one of our breaks, but I only heard that noise once on this trip.

While most truck drivers are very decent people with a hard job to do and a timetable to meet,
you may occasionally run into a rogue. We did, when I pulled out to pass a big rig in
Mississippi on Interstate 20. It was a regional carrier, with a reddish-orange cab and trailer,
being followed by an old, dull-coated orange Supersport. The guy in the car was riding along
with his arm out the window, sipping a soft drink and showing off his tattoo while he played
the radio. The two vehicles were obviously travelling together, and probably connected via CB
as well.

Jim speculates that the truck driver said something along these lines to his buddy: 'Let's mess
with these bikers' minds.' I pulled out into the fast lane from a cruising speed of about 70 mph.
For the reasons stated, I'd waited for an inclined stretch to pass. About the time I hit 75, the
truck began to accelerate. Before I could fight the wind blast and the rising elevation enough
to get past him, we were both doing 95! I came up to the window of the cab but could only see
out of the corner of my eye, not enough to make out the driver's face. When I glanced at my
speedometer and saw that I'd break 100 before I could pass him, I thought, 'Screw this,' and
backed off. This meant backing off behind the Supersport, too, of course, and losing a lot of
speed on that hill. And I expect those two rednecks were choking on their Co-Cola for
laughing. Yeah, real funny, that kind of thing.

Jim said he was glad to see I kept all my fingers on the grips as I dropped back.

This is not the kind of trucker you want behind you anyway.

We saw a few others that fit that description on our trip, like truckers who are drunk or half-
asleep. A big rig weaving from side to side in the lane, crossing the stripe on the roadside and
then coming close to the dotted line is a hairy sight. We dropped back and watched one for a
while, talking it over. Jim got on the CB to try to wake the driver up, but he couldn't raise him
on any channel. We finally passed him, fast, and hauled it away from him at once.

For some reason, the drivers on the interstate and by-passes in Atlanta, GA are the most
aggressive people I've ever seen on the road. They made the Houston traffic look like a ride

in the park! This included the solo drivers in passenger cars and the truckers in big rigs. There
are lots of regional and local trucking lines in that city, too, and many slow-moving rigs are
mixed in with the speed demons. If you can find a way to skip riding a motorcycle on the
interstates through Atlanta, spend some time with your maps and give yourself a break.

Be especially careful about your footing at truck stops, too... some of these rigs really drop oil.

After this trip, I'd say that while motorcycles and 18-wheelers can co-exist on the superslabs,
it really isn't much fun for a biker out there. It's a serious test of your nerve, and it can be very
fatiguing to do it for hour after hour. If you have to make time to your destination, you can
certainly do it with our excellent system of roads. But for me, the next time I go on two wheels
across half the country, I plan to seek out the back roads and regional highways, so I can
enjoy the ride.

Once we left Interstate 20 and took Highway 61 south from Vicksburg to Natchez, for a while
Jim and I were the only two moving objects on the road. It was misty, and so quiet! In places,
the road was a tunnel of green leaves, weaving back and forth across the Natchez Trace.
There were little hills and dales, there were curves, there were small towns to see. It was so
beautiful, and after the freeways, what a relief! If you're going to see America on two wheels,
to me that's the way it's supposed to be.

If you have to do it, stay alert, and ride safe on the interstates!

         Does NOT Lower The Centre Of Gravity
                                     By James R. Davis

Apparently somebody has posted a message on some news list that stimulated quite a few e-
mail messages to me seeking confirmation of another bit of folklore that is pure rubbish. The
claim is that if you stand on your pegs you lower the bike's Centre of Gravity so that you can
have better control of it.

The thought is that because you take weight off the seat and place it, instead, on the pegs,
that you have lowered the Centre of Gravity as a result. Wrong! [Well, wrong if you STAND in
order to do it. If you merely put a bit more of your weight on the pegs while remaining on the
seat you will shift the Centre of Gravity VERY MODESTLY (insignificantly) down.]

Consider: If the bike was at a dead stop and you were sitting in the saddle all the weight
would be distributed onto the contact patches of your tires. That is, if the total weight of the
bike (including you) was 1,000 pounds, there would be about 600 pounds on the rear tire and
about 400 pounds on the front tire. Now, if you stood up on the pegs and measured the
weight on each tire you would find the total remains at 1,000 pounds. However, it would
probably be closer to 550 pounds on the rear tire and 450 on the front. i.e., you have
probably moved the CG forward, but you have not reduced it one ounce.

It is clear that you DO change where the CG is by standing on the pegs. At least you now
know that it typically moves forward (at least it does if the pegs are closer to the front of the
bike than where your butt usually rests on the seat.)

When you sat on the seat you RAISED the combined CG of the bike (including you) as
compared to where it was when you were not on the bike at all.

Now, as you stand on the pegs rather than sit on the seat, you RAISE the combined CG even

It is true, however, that you increase your ability to quickly lean the bike in this new posture
and you do not have to suffer the shock (at least the indignity) of that seat slapping your butt
when the bike bounces over those railroad tracks.

This is true because you have, when standing on the pegs, placed your body torso on top of
another set of 'springs' - your knees. Your body is now 'double sprung weight' as a result.
You have, in other words, allowed your body to move in another direction than the
bike moves. (It should be clear that the body will follow the average direction of travel of the
bike, of course.)

For those who still misunderstand, if you stand on your pegs as you ride through a set of
twisties you know, (I hope), that you will have LESS CONTROL and could not negotiate those
curves as fast as you could if you were sitting in your saddle. This, because your combined
CG is HIGHER. Your bike would have to lean farther than it would if you were sitting in the
seat to manage the same curves at the same speed.

  Standing on the pegs moves the combined CG of your bike and you FORWARD.

  Standing on the pegs moves the combined CG of your bike and you UP.

                           The great intimidators
                                     By James R. Davis

The only combination worse than having either parent and child or a pair of significant others
in an MSF class together is to have that combination trying to teach each other how to ride a
motorcycle in private.

The more experienced of the pair invariably means well but based on a huge desire to please
them the less experienced one tends to try too hard (or tries to strut beyond their ability.)

Relative to an MSF class, despite instructions to the contrary, in the event one of them has an
accident (a dumped bike, for example), it is unnatural for the other to stop and stay in place
while an instructor takes care of the situation - resulting in loss of control on a range and
potentially a second incident involving other students.

But when this combination of teacher/student tries to do their thing (teach/learn motorcycle
riding) outside of an MSF environment is when things can really get dicey. Despite best
intentions, the more experienced of the pair can well put the less experienced in a great deal
of danger, or simply push them farther than they are ready to go and that desire to please
mentioned earlier then can become critical.

An MSF Instructor's certification does NOT make him/her better than anyone else. It does
NOT mean they have all the answers. It does NOT mean that without it nobody else can
teach a newbie how to ride successfully. What it means is that the MSF instructor has the
training and experience (and a safe range and safe equipment) to do at least an adequate job
of it. [I know, I've read about and seen MSF instructors who are great intimidators, too.]

If you can, let the professionals do their jobs. And, avoid the parent/child or significant others
in the same class temptation.

I recently received a letter from a young lady who had just taken an MSF class and earned
her motorcycle endorsement. On a bike borrowed from a friend, she visited her parents to
show them that she had just become what they both were - a motorcyclist. The parents
decided right then and there to teach their daughter how to 'really' ride a motorcycle. Some of
the 'stuff' they fail to teach you during an MSF class - like how to ride in the grass. This,
because 'if you are ever forced off the road you need to know how to handle a bike in the dirt.'

She nearly hit a tree at 20 MPH and dumped the bike. Serious but quickly mending injuries
resulted to the girl along with a $400 repair bill for the friend's bike.

Need I say more?

                             How to handle them
                                     By James R. Davis

Sooner or later you are going to wonder about how to handle severe crosswinds - probably
while fighting them.

Surprise, surprise - you don't have to do anything and the motorcycle will handle most
crosswinds just fine - with only normal responses from you.

There are a couple of things that you can do to make the experience less stressful, however.
For example, you can quit white-knuckling your grips. When you hold on tight you also tend to
stiff arm your controls. That, as we've talked about before, merely allows front-end instability
to propagate into the rest of the motorcycle. Relax your grips and droop your elbows. Allow
your bike to be a bit unstable. Drive in the CENTER OF YOUR LANE. Lean forward and
down to reduce your profile, and snug up your jacket.

What about traction? You neither gain nor lose any significant traction when the wind blows
from your side unless you are in a curve. While you are leaned into the wind all of the weight
of the bike remains on your tires (fancy that) and there is very little lateral force scrubbing that
traction away.

How much lean do you need? Whatever the bike dials in for you.

Should you anticipate those gusts? Should you just respond quickly to a gust in order to
remain in control and travelling in a straight line? No, and no. Your bike will NOT travel in a
straight line. That is, as long as you allow it to do its thing, your bike will be modestly blown
off course with a gust and the result of that movement is EXACTLY the same as any other
minor course change - you will need modest counter-steer input to correct it - the CG of your
bike will then be on the side the wind came from and the result is that it will lean towards the

[Anticipating wind-sheer IS important under a couple of scenarios: the approach of an
oncoming large vehicle suggests that severe buffeting will occur when you pass it, and
entering or exiting stretches protected from the wind such as tunnels or bridges with relatively
high retaining walls. In these cases you will certainly want to position the bike away from the
source of the wind-sheer and insure you maintain a firm grip.]

Is a heavier bike less likely to be blown around than a lighter bike? Not necessarily. What is
primarily determinant of how great the effect of a crosswind is on your bike is its profile. A
garage door (GoldWing) will typically be more harshly affected by crosswinds than a lighter
low profile bike.

Can you mitigate some of that instability in any way? Yes. There are cowling additions that
can be designed (some are available off the shelf - called 'belly pans') that streamline the
airflow under your bike and help (modestly) to reduce crosswind handling problems.

Your side profile area is what determines how your motorcycle reacts to crosswinds. Just as
there is a Centre of Gravity, there is also a Centre of wind resistance. If that centre of wind
resistance is in front of your Centre of Gravity then crosswinds will tend to push you off course
while if it is behind your Centre of Gravity the motorcycle will try to steer INTO the wind. Thus,
mounting a high profile LIGHT object (a stuffed animal, for example) onto your trunk lid or
your pillion can have a dramatically corrective effect rather than worsen the bike's steering
reaction to those crosswinds.

Crosswinds can be murder if you are leaned way over in a curve. Don't, if you can avoid it.

As a result of a crosswind your bike will move off course and normal modest counter-steer will
lean it into the wind. A strong gust will blow you out of track. So, correct your steering,
gently, and keep going.

I admit that sometimes a gust can be ferocious! I was on the Golden gate bridge once when
a crosswind blew me into the adjacent lane! But the bike was in no danger of falling down
and it was easy to get back in lane. Had the gust been a sustained blast I would have been
leaned over nearly 45 degrees. It was not, thankfully.

Note ... there are TWO times when a gusty crosswind changes your bike's direction of travel:
when it hits, and when it stops. Both require that you allow the bike to respond and use
normal modest counter-steering. (When it quits you will be leaned over and, as a result, your
bike will move towards where the wind WAS coming from until you straighten it up.

If crosswinds involve huge short gusts, go park the bike. If the crosswinds are more
sustained, pucker up and keep going.

                                  Eyes Pop Out
                                   By James R. Davis

During a State Rally that Elaine and I just attended we had the pleasure of hosting a couple of
safety seminars for the attendees. During a session of our presentation the audience was
dumbfounded and shocked at a casual remark made by Elaine. She told them that high
impact accidents sometimes result in having the victim's eyes (or one of them) pop out of their
heads. [Subsequent to posting this article an EMT wrote me that in 15 years of experience he
has NEVER witnessed a case of an eye dislocating. On the other hand, another wrote that he
has seen it happen. Our most recent CPR/First Aid class included acknowledgement that
high impact accidents do result in dislocations. For what it's worth.]

This was not meant to shock or make the audience uncomfortable, but rather to point out that
a first aid kit should include a few things that most people don't seem to realize could come in
very handy.

(In the case of an eye or eyes that have popped out of their sockets, you should not assume
that the victim is rendered blind as a result. The eyes can be returned to their sockets by
competent medical people.)

The problem is that the victim can STILL SEE with their eyes dislocated and that scares them
and confuses them to the point that they can do some very damaging things to themselves.

What to do? Use empty Styrofoam cups and capture each eye in one and hold it up near the
sockets. Use a large triangle bandage and secure the cups (goggle fashion) against the head.
This 'blinds' the victim, removes the confusion of uncontrolled sight, and protects the eyes
themselves from further damage resulting from handling (particularly by the victim.)

Keep the victim still - TALK TO THEM NON-STOP!!!!!! - and wait for medical help to arrive.

Ugly and uncomfortable to think about, but if you have read this far you could be the reason a
victim has any sight left at all after an accident.

                                  and do it right
                                   By James R. Davis

This weekend Elaine and I did an 800 mile trip to attend a State rally for the G.W.T.A. held in
a tiny town in central Texas called Goldthwaite. Other than having to ride through heavy
winds and rain for about 100 miles on the return leg of the trip the weather was wonderful. In

fact, the trip was terrific in all particulars and would have been perfect had we only spent an
additional $2 the last time we had the rear tire on her bike replaced.

We were 40 miles from our destination on Saturday morning when we decided to check the
air pressure in our tires. (The tires were cold; we had spent the night in this small town and
were just starting out.)

Elaine's tires were a little low so we went three blocks to a gas station for some air. Elaine
had the air hose in her right hand and had taken the cap off the valve stem on the rear tire
with her left hand, and then as she was mating the hose and the stem a funny thing happened
- the stem BROKE almost in two! Over the years the rubber had deteriorated and become
brittle. A little sideways pressure was all it took.

Now there are no motorcycle shops in the tiny town we were in. In fact, the closest town with
a shop in it was 35 miles in the direction we had just come from. But 40 miles ahead there
were a couple of hundred friends - and so we decided that was the best course of action to
take. We chained her bike to a steel post, unpacked her personal things from her bike and
she along with her things became a passenger on my bike for the next 40 miles.

Our friends were fast to offer help. After breakfast (grin) I went out and bought some valve
stems. Meanwhile, Elaine had talked one of the attendees into taking her to her bike in his
truck with attached trailer, (thinking that she had the keys to unlock the chain - she had one of
the two she needed.) So, I chased after them on my bike and we met, you guessed it, at the
site where her bike had been chained, 40 miles down the road.

Oh, the guy that took her was a cop. He did not happen to have a set of lock picks with him,
but the two of them had managed to get the bike unchained from the post, and up and onto
the bed of the trailer, and had tied it down pretty as you please by the time I got there (chain
wrapped around the front wheel.) We drove back that 40 miles and at the rally site a vendor
installed the stem and inflated her tire for her. Total cost of the incident was $25 plus the cost
of the stems I bought.

Now, for some this would have amounted to a dreadful way to start a rally. Elaine and I just
laughed and considered it a learning experience. (And, it once again demonstrated the
wisdom of travelling in a group.) It had never occurred to either of us to replace the valve
stem when we replace a tire. We will do that from now on. And, of course, it could have been
so much worse. That stem could have failed while we were travelling at 80 MPH on some
stretch of road 40 or 100 miles away from anywhere. There could have been a disaster.
Instead, we were inconvenienced for a few hours.

This tip is written to save you both those inconvenience hours and a possible disaster. For an
additional $2 when you next change a tire, do it right - replace the valve stem too.

        An Accessory That Makes Sense For All
                                    By James R. Davis

Yes, I smoke. So? This tip has nothing to do with smoking.

One of the least expensive additions you can put on your bike is a cigarette lighter - and you
should. (If you prefer, throw the lighter part of the assembly away.)

What I'm getting at is the value of having a 'hot' cigarette lighter receptacle on your bike.
There are unbelievable advantages to you in having one on your bike, not the least of which
is that it could result in your being able to save a life.

Like any accessory, you should include an in-line fuse when you install this device, but unlike
your other accessories, you should wire this one directly to your battery and avoid the ignition
switch. That is, you want the receptacle 'hot' whether the ignition is on or not.

Since these are NOT weather-proof devices, mount the receptacle inside a saddlebag and

  Do you carry a cellular phone? Ever had to use it only to find the battery was too
  weak? Now you have the ability to plug it in any time, anywhere. A 911 call is not an
  unthinkable requirement when out on the road, right?
  Ever do campouts? Did you have to resort to blowing up an air mattress by mouth?
  A cheap air pump plugs into your cigarette lighter receptacle and makes that job
  Ever charge your battery? It's a pain getting your charger connected to the battery
  posts, right? Besides removing covers (and the ever present possibility of breaking
  one of the plastic studs in the process), there is also the possibility of inadvertently
  reversing leads and destroying that battery. Wire your charger to a male cigarette
  lighter plug and whenever you want to charge that battery just plug it into the
You get the idea. This is one versatile and inexpensive accessory that should be standard
equipment, even if it's not politically correct.

                           (10 MPH can kill you)
                                   By James R. Davis

When we pass a vehicle in a two-way environment we generally do so as fast as we prudently
can - we want to get back in the lane quickly and we want to get out of harms way just as

But what about when we are on one-way roads? For example, we are in the fast lane on a
freeway and we are passing cars continuously. Or, more ominously, we are not in the fast
lane and there is a slowdown or severe traffic restriction (say at a congested off-ramp) in the
lane next to us.

In the first example, if we are moving at normal traffic speeds - that is, if we are moving at
about the same speed as other vehicles in our lane, then there should be a reasonably small
speed difference between the bike and those vehicles we are passing. 10 - 15 MPH is pretty
normal. Our biggest risk is that a vehicle we are about to pass decides to change lanes
without noticing us - clearly we need to pay close attention.

In the second example the speed difference between our bike and the vehicles we are
passing is usually much greater than in the first example. Further, many of the drivers of the
vehicles we are passing do not want to be 'trapped' in the lane they are in and are looking for
an opportunity to dart into our lane.

I suggest that any time you are moving faster than about 10 MPH over the speed of the
vehicles you are passing you are at significant risk of not having enough time to react to and
avoid potential accidents.

It simply is not worth any time you might gain to expose yourself to those kinds of situations

  If you are in the fast lane and it is travelling at a significantly faster speed than
  vehicles in the adjacent lane, get out of the fast lane - move right.
  If you are in a lane adjacent to one that is restricted for any reason and, thus, you
  are travelling at a substantial speed differential - move left and away from that
  unnecessary danger.

                  (I'd Rather Be Red Than Dead)
                                     By James R. Davis

City traffic lights. you would think, are pretty simple devices. They are, after all, only three
different collared lights with some switches and timers. And while red and green are obvious,
you'd think that the meaning of the yellow light wouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out.

I could be wrong, of course. (Most intersection accidents seem to happen in relation to that

I intend to help humanity with this rather simple article. I would like to take any confusion
regarding the yellow light away with a concept so obvious that it probably is already known to

  Yellow is either Red or Green

In other words, the yellow light either means stop or go. Now all we have to figure out is when
it means stop and when it means go.

When you notice that a light is yellow and if you are able to stop before entering the
intersection, yellow means 'stop'. At all other times yellow means 'go, but use caution'. Please
note that a yellow light NEVER means 'speed up'.

So now YOU know the rules, but you should assume that nobody else does. In other words,
when you are waiting for a light to turn green, after it does you should assume that someone
is going to be in the intersection trying to stretch out the yellow as it turns red. A head check is
absolutely critical before entering an intersection when your light turns green.

            To Protect Your Thumb (and Clutch)
                                     By James R. Davis

I have enjoyed riding motorcycles for nearly 40 years and have tried just about every gadget
and accessory ever made at one time or another. Of all of them, electronic, chrome or plastic,
one stands out as the best 'add-on' I have ever used: The Wrist Rest.

As I'm sure those of you who have read any of my other articles know, I prefer to cover my
front brake virtually all the time I'm moving faster than I can walk. Whether you use two
fingers or four to cover your brake lever that places rather a lot of strain on your thumb
muscles over time. Indeed, I have been so cramped after a few hours of riding, particularly
when it's been cold, that I simply had to stop and relax for awhile before I could get back on
the bike because of thumb cramps.

Then, about ten years ago I found a Wrist Rest. Since I was driving a rather decked out
GoldWing (several thousands of dollars worth of chrome - for show), I elected to buy one
made of chrome, but they come in plastic as well. This is a simple device that merely clamps
onto your right grip near the outside edge and extends towards the rear. It is a platform onto
which you place your palm as you hold the grip.

It is positioned so that your hand is exactly where you usually place it while riding. Only the
part of your palm that is connected to your little finger covers the Wrist Rest. (For small hands
you slide it to the left, for wider hands you slide it to the right.)

Thus, in order to roll-on your throttle all you have to do is press down with your palm. To roll-
off the throttle you rely on the throttle spring return and just ease the pressure off the device.
For fast roll-off you can always twist the grip normally.

What this really does for you is allow you to completely relax your thumb. You no longer have
to grip the handlebar with your thumb muscles in order to control that throttle.
Even with loose fitting long sleeves I have never gotten myself fouled on the device, though I
imagine it is possible to do. Still, the only time I can imagine that happening is if I was
reaching up to adjust my right mirror, which I prefer to do while the bike is stopped anyway.

I have heard someone suggest that this device is dangerous because it causes you to speed
up when making right turns. Nonsense! You do not roll your wrist to turn right - you press on
the grip. That does not rotate the Wrist Rest.

Even in bitter cold I have never had thumb cramps after installing my Wrist Rest. And, just as
important to me, I have BETTER control of my throttle with the Wrist Rest than without it.
Small vernier like adjustments to speed are trivial when using this device. In other words,
besides protecting my thumb from cramping, using this device tends to make my clutch last
longer for I do not need to rely as much on friction-zone clutch action at slower speeds.

                                      Stay With It
                                     By James R. Davis

Your bike goes down and there is traffic all around you when it happens. Odds are good that,
if you can, you will want to get away from it and get off the roadway. You survived one
accident and don't want to take part in another, you don't want a car to run into you. You want
to get off the road as soon as possible.

My advice: Stay with your bike!

That is,

  wait until you know that you are physically able to move

  wait until it is safe to move off the road
  wait until you know what the traffic around you is going to do
After an accident you will be confused and possibly hurt. While it is natural to want to get
away from the scene of the accident, particularly if there is traffic around you, to immediately
get up and dart across a lane or two of traffic DRAMATICALLY increases your odds of not
surviving the original accident.

As an example of what is, in my opinion, wrong headed thinking on this matter, though
containing both good intentions and at least one valuable insight to share with you, here is the
substance of an e-mail message I recently received:


After a minor fall, we have all sudden realised that there may be on coming traffic. With
adrenalin pumping, the natural tendency is to jump up and run from the road to the side-walk.
With out looking up, we may run into the path of a swerving car.

So LOOK UP, ALWAYS move in the direction of the traffic flow, and THEN decide which
escape route is the safest. Only when you see it is safe should you move across the lanes.
Remember, the shoulder of the road may ALSO be used by a swerving car trying to avoid
you. So don't automatically think the shoulder is a safe haven, even if you fall just next to it.

(Disregard the obvious spelling and other grammar errors in the message - the person who
sent it to me is not a native English speaker.)

This person and I exchanged messages trying to get clarification. I, for example, was sure
that he didn't actually mean that you should walk in the direction of traffic, but it turns out that
he did. I cannot imagine trying to get off a roadway by walking with traffic coming from behind

In any event, please note that this person's advice is essentially to get away from your down
bike. Wrong! It may be the only thing that protects you from being struck by a moving vehicle.

If it was a minor accident and you are certain that you are not badly injured, THEN you might
wish to get out of the roadway, BUT AFTER AN ACCIDENT YOU ARE NOT THE BEST
PERSON TO CONSULT ON THE MATTER! If there is any doubt in your mind, at all, stay
down and await help!

If you are going to get up and cross lanes of traffic, FACE traffic rather than away from it.

                   (Comfort is just as important)
                                    By James R. Davis

Having just completed a 1,400 mile tour from Houston, Texas to Tupolo, Mississippi in order
to explore the Natchez Trace, it seems a good time to reflect on what was learned during that

Let me describe the environment first. Elaine and I packed our bikes and began our tour at
6:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 12, 1998. It was 34 degrees when we left - COLD! We
travelled all day and reached Vicksburg, Mississippi before stopping for the night. The next
day we made it to Tupolo, Mississippi ending our travel away from home. The temperature fell
to 22 degrees that night. On the return trip the temperatures steadily rose both days reaching
the mid 60's before we arrived back in Houston on Sunday afternoon. While there were
storms all around us, not one drop of water fell on us during those four days.

Neither Elaine nor I will ride our bikes 20 feet without first donning a helmet. Similarly, we
invariably wear leather chaps to protect our legs. Until this year we would wear our leather
jackets in any weather up to a temperature of about 90 degrees. When it got that hot we
would either wear lighter leather or some form of synthetic jacket. And, of course, we wear
boots and gloves. Obviously, our primary intention in wearing this PROTECTIVE GEAR is to
protect us from a potential fall from the bikes, not because it is stylish nor even because in the
case of the helmet, it is often the law.

However, on this trip neither of us had any trouble whatever. We did not dump our bikes. We
did not fall from them. We had no mechanical trouble. But I can assure you that we did not
feel that we had overdressed! (Indeed, we had not put enough layers of clothes on for the first
two days.)

What we discovered early the very first day was that without dressing as we had we could not
have driven our bikes more than about 50 miles, let alone 1,400 miles. That is, our
PROTECTIVE GEAR was a requirement for COMFORT!!! The oft denigrated helmet was
absolutely essential from that point of view. Our faces and our eyes could not have handled
sub-freezing temperatures without those helmets. Our hands could not have handled the
controls for longer than about five minutes without the gloves (and liners) we were wearing.
Our feet could not have handled the wind chill effects of travelling at 70 MPH without high
topped boots and the protection of our chaps.

In fact, as I said earlier, our PROTECTIVE GEAR was inadequate to keep us as comfortable
as we needed to be without adding more layers of clothing under them than we normally

But there are limits. I, for example, wore long johns, sweatpants, and loose pants under my
chaps. The sweatpants were too bulky and tended to bind my knees when I bent them. Off

went the sweats and the loose pants and they were replaced with a pair of jeans. That
combination worked just fine.

Similarly, both Elaine and I wear glove liners under our leather gloves when the temperature
drops. For the first two days we found that was not enough. So, we resorted to an old trick we
learned on an earlier tour - we placed a pair of latex gloves on over the liners, then put the
leather gloves on top of both. Elaine found that if she wore her tighter leather gloves over the
latex gloves there was insufficient protection. She switched to a larger set of leather gloves
and found that the additional layer of air made all the difference in the world. In my case, after
about an hour of wearing those latex gloves I found my hands were so wet from sweat that I
was getting colder each time we stopped than had I not worn them at all. But they made the
difference that was required while we were on the rode and my hands were too cold to control
my bike properly.

And now about leather jackets - this year both Elaine and I purchased new jackets for our
riding COMFORT and PROTECTION. We selected the Kilimanjaro style jacket made by
FirstGear. These are made of a wonderful fabric called Hypertex rather than leather. We
believe that we would not have been able to complete this latest tour had we not worn these

The jackets are long - coming six or eight inches below our waist lines. All zippers are
covered and sealed from direct exposure to the wind. There are MANY, MANY pockets in
these jackets, many of which are easily accessible with gloved hands, all are protected from
the wind, and some are deep enough to easily hold my MSF range cards while instructing my
classes. The jackets are waterproof and very, very important, the arm cuffs are designed to
overlap a pair of gloves and easily seal, via Velcro straps, around them. There are many
ingeniously located air flow control vents that are zipper sealed when you want to 'bundle up'.
The shoulders have light reflective material on them and there is a long light reflective strip on
the back that you can hide or show at will. There is a removable jacket liner that can be worn
by itself if you wish. Finally, these jackets have built-in soft armour at the shoulders, elbows,
upper and lower back. Retail price of these jackets is about $270.

Do I think that a leather jacket provides more protection than these jackets? Yep! From slides.
But nothing I have ever worn provides as much PROTECTION and COMFORT in as widely
diverse weather as these jackets provide. And, one can always add hard armour in place of
the soft armour for even more protection.

So, while I absolutely believe that you should dress for the fall, not just for the ride,
COMFORT is just as important most of the time.

                              (Of course you can)
                                     By James R. Davis

I received an interesting message the other day from a rider who had just completed his first
MSF class. The man commutes to work on his bike and in that letter he described a situation

that he confronts every day which seems to defy what he was told in his MSF class - a long
curve on a steeply declining slope.

The man remembers that his instructor told him that he should establish his entry speed
before he enters the curve and that he should gently accelerate all the way through the curve.
He finds it impossible to do - safely - and asked for advice.

He is right! It is impossible to safely accelerate (using the throttle) all the way through a long
steeply declining curve, and that is NOT what the MSF has tried to teach.

There are several intents of the MSF range exercise that the man refers to.

  You should establish your entry speed BEFORE you enter the curve. That is, you are
  to eliminate all excess approach speed, with braking if necessary, while still
  travelling in a straight line and while the bike is vertical.
  You should 'set' your suspension BEFORE you enter the curve. That is, you should
  NOT have to deal with a changing centre of gravity that results from weight shifts
  that are caused by changes of acceleration or braking while in a curve. You should
  have already established your entry speed at this point so your springs/shocks are
  resting at normal riding positions. But because you want maximum control of your
  bike through the turn, you want your front tire to be able to handle modest bumps
  and surface distortions without destabilizing your bike so you want to shift some
  weight to the rear tire. That increases rear tire traction, loads the rear
  shocks/springs somewhat more than the front, and increases over-steer. And you
  want that attitude all the way through the curve so you maintain a modest
  acceleration all the way through it.
All of which sounds like you should accelerate all the way through a curve, I know. But, NOT

To begin with, you know that you must lean the bike in order to make a turn. That the faster
you go through a given turn, the greater the lean that must be used. Clearly you can
accelerate to a speed that is beyond your ability to negotiate a turn. Thus, if you modestly
accelerate all the way through a turn it must be that you established a low enough entry
speed to allow it, and that you did not use excessive acceleration through the turn.

Next, by virtue of being on a decline, you will accelerate without any throttle at all. If the rate
of acceleration is high enough, there is no safe entry speed that would allow you to complete
the turn safely (without some braking.)

And, because you are on a decline, there is already more weight on the front tire than you can
safely shift to the rear via acceleration to give you the handling stability that is sought from
acceleration without exceeding your ability to negotiate the turn.

Finally, because you are in a turn you are, by definition, already accelerating! (Delta V - any
change in velocity is acceleration - even if you are slowing down!!!) Your shocks receive
increased loading just because you are in a curve - from centrifugal force.

So, it sounds like if you are on a decline while in a curve you should NOT use your throttle to
accelerate. CORRECT!

Instead, you should use your brakes and/or engine braking to either maintain your entry
speed or to allow only modest increases of speed. At the same time, you should have moved
back as far as possible in your seat to shift weight to the rear tire.

But, this gentleman reminds me that his MSF instructor told him not to use brakes in a curve.

What his instructor told him was that if he used his brakes while in a curve to STOP he should
gradually straighten the bike up as his speed decreases and gradually increase brake
pressure until the bike is vertical. That remains completely true. But if you are not slowing
down, merely maintaining your speed, then there is no straightening of the bike required. The

MSF instructor also told him that if he needed to make the fastest stop while in a curve he
should straighten the bike up first, then apply his brakes. But we are not talking about slowing
or stopping the bike here.

Of course you can use your brakes in a curve. Brakes are not used merely to stop your bike,
they are used to offset acceleration (i.e., to either slow the bike or to prevent it from
accelerating as fast as it otherwise would go from gravity assist.)

If you do have to use your brakes in a curve for modest deceleration then the question arises
as to which? Front, rear, or both? You will recall that front brake usage tends to shorten the
wheelbase and, thus, both quicken your steering and straighten the turn (make it wider.) The
rear brake, by itself, tends to lengthen the wheelbase. The clear choice, then, is use of the
rear brake by itself unless you need to aggressively slow down (in which case you would use
both together.)

Finally, if the decline/curve is long enough you should rely heavily on engine braking rather
than just your brakes in order to keep your brakes functional (not overheated) should you
need them.

                           Subtle safety feature
                                   By James R. Davis

It's clear that the lock on your gas tank serves to prevent anyone from adulterating or from
siphoning out its contents. But how do you explain the fact that many systems are designed
such that you cannot remove the key from that lock while the gas cap is open?

There are two fundamental reasons:

  The key in this kind of system cannot be dropped into the tank

  The key in this kind of system cannot be inserted into the ignition switch while the
  tank is open
Of course we don't want to drop a key into the tank, but why should we be concerned about
the ignition switch?

  It prevents you from leaving the gas cap back at the service station

  It prevents you from turning on the electronics while the tank is open
Of course we don't want to leave the gas cap behind, but what's wrong with listening to some
tunes while we add gas to the bikes?

The subtle safety feature I'm reaching for is that this kind of system keeps you from doing
something stupid like using your CB radio while sitting in the middle of a cloud of gasoline
vapour. Gasoline vapour is explosive!

It is at least curious to me that you can spend $20,000 for a motorcycle that does not include
a gas tank lock designed to hold onto the key until you are finished adding that gasoline while
many (most?) less expensive bikes do.

  You should know this before driving down the
                                    By James R. Davis

There seems to be a continuing belief amongst many of us that stopping distance increases
as a direct function of increased vehicle weight. I would like to try again to put this issue to

While it is true that a heavier vehicle requires more energy to brake to a stop than does a
lighter vehicle, (there is, after all, more mass involved), that does NOT mean the heavier
vehicle takes more time or more distance to stop.

Let's review how your brakes work. Regardless of type (disk or drum), your brakes work by
pressing a non-revolving material against a revolving material and, as a result, converting (via
friction) the energy from the revolving material into heat. The harder the materials are pressed
together, the greater the friction and, as a result, the greater the rate of conversion - i.e., the
more braking force applied, the quicker you slow down the revolutions of the wheels, and the
hotter the brakes become.

The brakes are also designed to radiate the resulting heat into the environment and, thus,
allow the brakes to cool down quickly after they are no longer being used. This is a very
important part of their design because the braking material used loses efficiency (reduced
friction) with high heat. Indeed, if the braking material gets too hot it can be permanently
damaged (it will glaze.)

Brakes on an 18-wheeler are substantially larger than those on your car or motorcycle. That
is, brakes come in lots of different sizes - each with the ability to convert a range of energy
conversion demands. The bike designers select brakes appropriate for your most demanding
requirements. In other words, your brakes are perfectly adequate to totally stop the revolution
of your wheels, regardless of how heavy the bike is (until it is severely over weight) or how
fast those wheels are turning. Mind you, you can severely overload your bike with luggage
and passenger to the point that your brakes might not be up to the task of handling that
demand efficiently.

Since you know that you can lock a wheel while the bike is still moving, you know that the
braking energy you apply to your brakes is NOT WHAT LIMITS HOW FAST YOU CAN
STOP! That limit is determined by the amount of traction your tires have.

Further, since it takes more braking energy to stop (lock) a spinning wheel than to merely
slow it down, and because a sliding tire (the result of locking your brake) has less traction
than one that is not sliding, your normally functioning brakes are NOT WHAT LIMITS YOUR
STOPPING DISTANCE! That limit is also determined by the traction of your tires.

Traction, as we have discussed before, increases with weight. Thus, adding weight decreases
your ability to slide the tire and, as a result, gives you the ability to stop more quickly while at
the same time increasing the energy that must be converted to heat by your brakes in order to
slow down. In effect, adding weight makes it harder to slow at the same time it makes it more
possible to do so.

If you so severely overload your bike that the brakes are no longer powerful enough to cause
a skid, then you know that the increase in traction gained by that added weight has finally
overwhelmed the ability of your brakes and, thus, your brakes then become what limits your
stopping ability (time and distance.)

Weight affects your ability to stop in TWO ways:

  It takes more energy (braking) to slow a heavier weight

  Traction INCREASES as a result of added weight such that more braking can be
  used without starting a slide.
Thus, adding weight essentially CANCELS itself out as an impact on stopping distance. All
that you need to do is apply your brakes harder in order to TOTALLY compensate for added

You know this already, of course. Else, for example, how could a car EVER stop as quickly as
a motorcycle? Or, how could a heavy Valkyrie EVER stop as quickly as a little 250 cc street
bike? Further, any of you that have taken an MSF class know that there is an exercise (and a
skill test) that measures how quickly you can stop your bike while moving in a straight line.
Your speed is computed by using a stopwatch and measuring your time through a marked
interval. Your stopping distance is read directly from marks on the ground. If, for example, you
are travelling at 20 MPH when you begin your braking, then you are expected to stop within
23 feet. NOTE - if you are a 300 pound rider or a 100 pound rider, the results are the same!
There is no compensation for weight. Now you know why.

Now, mind you that I have been talking about a panic stop capability - or even normal braking
THE FIRST COUPLE OF TIMES. The heavier the bike, however, the more heat is created by
using those brakes and braking power diminishes with higher heat. Thus, while on a long
mountainside decline, if the time interval between brake usage has not been long enough to
let the brakes cool down, then you will find that a heavier bike begins to no longer have the
braking power of a lighter bike. THAT is why you use engine braking (a lower gear) when
going down a long decline.

But, generally speaking, weight makes no difference in stopping distance because the brakes
are more than adequate to handle any normal range of weight for that bike.

                     Don't go down with the sun
                                     By Elaine Anthony

A number of area riders had the experience recently of having to ride for quite a few miles
directly into a setting sun. The glare was not only a strain on tired eyes but also a very real

safety issue, as it effectively blocked all visual detail in the landscape and made scanning for
hazards almost impossible. Our lead bike saved several riders a bad spill by warning us of a
large dog in the road: our thanks to him was heartfelt, because although the dog was roughly
the size and shape of an adult Wolfhound (not a small critter!) and came completely into the
lane, it was in shadow and couldn't be seen against the brilliant sun until we were all but on
top of it.

Here's a thought about seasonal trip planning. During our long summer days, a group of
motorcyclists can make good time and cover plenty of miles by getting an early start, when
the temperatures are still cool. Even after taking a break in the hottest part of the day, many
summer riders are already checked into their night's lodging and enjoying the pool by sunset.
By the time the sun drops to the horizon and starts causing problems with visibility, their bikes
are put to bed. As the daylight hours grow shorter, however, it becomes normal or even
necessary to keep riding until twilight in order to make the day's destination.

Those who are planning rides can save themselves and their riding buddies headaches
(literally) and worse by giving some thought to the sun's position relative to routing. If you're
riding eastward, try to do so in the afternoon or evening so that the sun will be behind you. If
westward bound, set off in the morning and keep the sun to your back. If neither of these
scenarios is possible on your route, plan to take the north or south legs of a trip late in the
afternoon, and do your east-west travel according to the sun's positioning earlier in the day.

While all of us who tour become familiar with riding toward the sun and that 'tipped head"
position it can take (to permit a helmet edge, visor, or sunglasses frame to block the brightest
light), this should be an occasional remedy and not one regularly used. It shouldn't be done
for miles on top of miles, either, as this adds considerably to a rider's fatigue and stress.
When it's become too painful or really impossible to see where you're going and what's on the
road, the best choice is not to ride. Take a break, wait for the glare to diminish, and then go
on. Otherwise you may be taking a chance that tearful admonitions to "Go to the Light!" will
be the last thing you hear!

                          Is still part of the family
                                      By James R. Davis

You are the lead bike and have a decision to make ... all of the motorcycles are similar except
one: it is a trike or a hack. What do you do with it?

There are only a few situations in which I will not allow a motorcycle, of any kind, to ride with
my group. First, if it is not street legal, it does not go along. If the rider is impaired in any way,
he is not allowed to join us, regardless of the condition of his bike. If the group leader requires
that helmets must be worn in his group and the rider of a bike refuses to wear one, he rides in
another group. Other than those few conditions, I don't care if the motorcycle is a Honda, a
Harley, a Ninja, a trike, or a hack. They are part of the family and welcome to join me (until
they demonstrate unsafe practices.)

A trike or a hack presents some unique concerns for me, however. For example, they are
wider than the other bikes and effectively must use the full width of a lane. And they, neither
of them, are capable of using counter-steering - they are literally steered through the curves.

So? Well, whether you know it or not, a bike that follows another bike obtains several visual
cues from the bike ahead of them. These cues are used by the following biker to better
anticipate what they must do in order to stay on the road and out of trouble. Such things as
lean angle and brake lights are examples of these cues. There is no lean angle on a trike (or
most hacks) and braking patterns are different for these kinds of motorcycles and yours.

In other words, you cannot casually assume that you follow one of these odd ducks the same
way you do any other motorcycle.

Further, because they are so wide you, when following one of them, are unable to see as
much of the road ahead of you as you are used to.

As the lead bike you can help the group out by assigning such an odd duck one of two
positions within the group. If the rider of one of these bikes is strong enough and you have
confidence enough in him/her, you can ask that person to ride drag for you. This very neatly
solves all of the major concerns you might have. On the other hand, if that rider is not known
to you, or is not qualified to ride as drag (or does not wish to do so), then that bike should be
assigned the second to last position in the group.

In the second to last position that bike directly affects only your drag bike. Since that bike is
assumed to be the most competent/prepared of all the rest of the group, it is reasonable to
assume that the drag bike can deal with the odd duck. (The drag bike should stretch out
his/her following distance to about twice normal to account for there not being a normal width
escape path within the lane ahead of it.)

If you have two 'odd ducks' and more than one group, they should be assigned to separate
groups. If there is only a single group, the 'odd ducks' belong at the rear of the group or in a
separate group of their own.

Final comment (suggested by a trike owner/rider): Never ride next to (try to share a lane with)
a trike. It is simply too dangerous as there is insufficient room. Beyond that, the handling
characteristics are completely different between a two-wheeled bike and a trike.

                   (Tubeless vs. Tube-type tires)
                                    By James R. Davis

Once upon a time bicycles and motorcycles had spoked wheels. They looked good.

Spoked wheels are incredibly difficult to keep clean and there are dozens of spokes in each
that have to be regularly checked and adjusted because they tend to come loose. And, each
one of those spokes are usually mechanically attached to the wheel rims in such a way that it
is difficult to make those connections air tight. On the other hand, tires in those days had inner
tubes that didn't leak (very much.)

[It turns out, by the way, that though spoked wheels tended to be lighter than more solid
designs, because the wheel's mass was concentrated largely at the rim rather than closer to
their hubs, they took more energy to accelerate or brake.]

I received a message the other day from someone who wants to replace his modern wheels
with ones that have spokes. Apparently he thinks they look nicer. I have no problem with that,
of course. This person also understood that spoked wheels, unless they are specifically made
for tubeless tires, should be used with tube-type tires and wondered if there was a safety
issue there that he needed to be aware of.

  Tube-type tires tend to have catastrophic failures when they are punctured whereas
  tubeless tires, because of their self-sealing construction, tend not to have
  catastrophic failures.
  Tube-type tires cannot be repaired on the road with a tire plug kit. You get a
  puncture; you probably have to get a tow.
In other words, if you want spoke wheels on your horse, for looks, then unless the rims are
specifically made to be used with tubeless tires, the bike should be a show bike. If you want to
ride your bike on the streets, most spoke wheels are not the best idea from a safety point of
view. [BMW has a spoked rim that is made to be safely used with tubeless tires.]

           Getting rid of them could prove fatal!
                                    By James R. Davis

You are out on the road and a headache begins. At the next stop you take some over-the-
counter medicine to get rid of it. No problem with that, you think, especially because you're
not taking any other medication nor have you been doing any drinking. An hour later you fail
to negotiate a turn and end up hurt ... or dead.

You have an abscessed tooth and your dentist prescribed a ten day supply of penicillin for
you. You are not allergic to it and are not taking any other medication. The swelling has gone
and so has the pain. The curve that you were going to take a little fast turned out to be your
worst nightmare and you could not negotiate it at all. Penicillin, it turns out, does not cure road
rash nor the loss of that leg.

These are not examples that just can't happen - they have!

Over-the-counter medication does not have to cause drowsiness to be a problem. Even if
after reading the warning labels and finding that there are no side effects to be worried about,
you should still be careful. An experienced certified MSF instructor recently described an
accident he had that simply should not have happened. He was not riding too fast. The road
and weather were perfect. The curve was relatively tame. But the antihistamine he took to
help him get over a pollen induced headache caused him to become confused and less than
competent in that curve. He ran off the road and was very lucky to have survived the

In the case of penicillin, I was in the middle of my MSF instructor training class and out on the
range working with 'students' on one of the more complex exercises. The abscess I had was
no longer a problem and I had only two days left of the medication to go. While out on that
range I suddenly got terribly confused. When asked to end the exercise by the other
instructor, I was to signal the students to 'restage' and direct them to the staging area.
Instead, I merely slowed them all down as they passed me, then WALKED OFF THE RANGE
as if the exercise was done. The students kept riding around the range, without my

supervision. It could have been worse. I could have directed those students into trouble. As it
was, we were all lucky.

Why did these things happen even without the complication of mixing other drugs or alcohol?
Because some medications act very strangely in combination with high heat environments! It
was well over 90 degrees in my case and I had been out on the range all day long. I'm led to
believe that heat was also a contributing factor in the incident the other instructor was
involved in.

So, if you find that you are fighting a headache or some other pain and decide to take care of
it and continue your ride, think again! At the very least, slow it down and tell yourself that you
may think you are 100%, but the headache or other pain has already told you that
SOMETHING is not right with you and you took some medication that, hopefully, is strong
enough to get rid of those SYMPTOMS. If the medication is strong enough to do that, it is
strong enough to make you less than a 100% rider.

In the real world you may have to ride a ways before you can get off the bike and park it until
all is well with you. SLOW DOWN and drive with the knowledge that you are NOT 100%. No
shame in that. But dying to prove how tough you were was hardly the smartest thing you ever
did when you were alive.

                          Testing too many limits
                                     By James R. Davis

It's possible that I've mistitled this tip. Perhaps I should have called it: Testing Limits. On the
other hand, since you're reading it it's possible that I titled it correctly after all. I want to
express a personal concern here in such a strong manner that it gets some attention and at
least causes my readers to think about the issues.

The MSF properly highlights the need to prepare for your rides. It goes so far as to describe
three elements that need to be prepared: Your mind, your body and your machine. That
works for me.

It then goes on to advise that one should know and ride within limits. And, again, it lists three
such limits: Your skills, your machine and your environment. While I agree in principle, I think
one needs to go farther and relate this advice to the real world.

It seems to me that the intention of that advice is spot on, from a safety point of view, but it
lacks reality from several other points of view. For example, before you learned to ride a
motorcycle your motorcycle skills (limits) were trivial. Following the advice to the letter would
preclude ever taking a motorcycle rider class.

To grow, by definition, one must test (at least stress) limits. That does not mean 'stepping
over the line'. Rather, it means putting your toes over that line. To learn great skills at
anything involves a process of pushing the limit line farther and farther ahead of you. Push it
too fast and you might not survive for the next lesson.

Next, the three limits described are not isolated and well defined absolutes. You may be able
to scrape your pegs on a certain curve, using a familiar motorcycle, but change the

motorcycle or try it on an unfamiliar curve and your skill limit is probably breached. Said
differently, limits are interdependent, not independent.

Because these limits are all functions of each other, a rational person who wants to grow
(stretch his limits) must control all those that he is not trying to stretch. One does not, for
example, decide to see how far over he can lean in a curve by mounting an unfamiliar
motorcycle and aiming it at a blind curve that he has never ridden on before.

Learning to ride motorcycles in the MSF: RSS course is an excellent example of this. They
provide known quality motorcycles, on a known quality range, with known quality instructors,
using a known and well tested curriculum. The only thing that is going to be variable is the
individual student's experience. Those students, in turn, are expected to grow their personal
skill limits. But motorcycle and environmental limits are not allowed to change. This makes
enormous sense to me.

While I absolutely agree that motorcyclists must know their own skill limits, the limits of their
motorcycles, and the limits of their riding environment, I would argue that until a motorcyclist
personally feels that he is 'good enough' to satisfy whatever personal needs he has, he
should feel perfectly free to put his toes over ONE limit at a time in order to grow.

And, to think that there are only three limits to be concerned about is silly. I would argue that
at least one more is profoundly important: the LAW.

The title of this article is Road Racing, not limits. So, what's the message here?

I know a man who has exceptionally fine motorcycle skills, his motorcycle is of the highest
quality and is well maintained, and he tends to ride on the best surfaces possible (meaning,
among other things, that he avoids rain when he rides.) This is a man who routinely
challenges himself, his motorcycle and his environment ALL AT THE SAME TIME! And,
almost by definition, he challenges the law while challenging all the rest of those limits. He
considers himself to be a Road Racer.

And he's not alone. He travels with and COMPETES AGAINST half a dozen other Road
Racers. Always on public roads - often roads he has never ridden before. Always in
uncontrolled conditions. Always well in excess of posted speed limits. Sometimes he swaps
motorcycles with a buddy to see how another bike 'feels'. And, occasionally, after a beer or

If you agree with me that limits include at least self, motorcycle, environment and law, and if
you agree with me that if you test limits you should restrict that testing to only one limit at a
time, then you have to wonder how this guy survives at all. (Indeed, maybe you already know
why so many of them do not.)

So there is no mistaking what I think, try this one on for size: If a group (two or more) of road
racers take on unfamiliar roads at speeds far in excess of the speed limit, pushing their skill
limits and competing with one another, the entire group is obviously testing too many limits.

And, if someone DIES as a result of that activity, then EVERYONE IN THE GROUP SHOULD

The only place motorcyclists should compete is on a race course. Road racing is not 'growth'.
It's reckless endangerment. And, yes, it's a self-correcting problem as well.

           Talking to yourself can keep you alive
                                     By James R. Davis

Throughout the set of articles I have written here there is a clear message, often repeated -
you should practice, practice, and practice.

Having some confidence in the merits of the material that you have read here, I suspect that
most of you accept the premise that practice is worthwhile because it tends to convert what is
otherwise difficult to 'doable with some facility' (meaning that as a result of practice you will
have the skill and confidence to know that you CAN do whatever has to be done, quickly and
without error.) Further, it teaches both our muscles and our minds how to do things in a way
that requires very little thought, very little lost time 'finding' the appropriate controls, and just
how much force is required when using those controls. In other words, practice allows us to
accomplish what must be done without the loss of time and control that would occur should
you simultaneously have to learn how when that panic situation presents itself to you.

So, is that all there is to it? Are you assured that if you practice enough you will be ready to do
whatever it takes while your body fills itself with adrenaline?

Surprisingly, the answer is both yes and no. You will be READY (and able) to do what must
be done, but what you have not practiced is dealing with that adrenaline. You, normally, do
not place yourself in situations where panic stops are required in order to save your life when
you practice. Indeed, when you practice you should do so in the safest environment possible
so that mistakes can be learned from rather than put you in the morgue.

In the real world there is a requirement that you build a bridge from the theoretical to the
actualization of your training. Let me give you an example of what I'm trying to get at here:
You are rounding a right-hand curve and see that a vehicle is coming towards you in the
opposite lane. That vehicle looks like it might be hugging the centre line. It has your attention!
Indeed, you are target fixated on it!! What do you do about it?

You have learned that motorcycles tend to go where you are looking. You have experienced
that phenomenon many times. You know that target fixation can kill you, again, because your
motorcycle tends to go where you are looking. So, why are you target fixated? You know

Virtually all of your driving experience has been 'practice' in this case. You know that unless
you change the focus of your fixation away from the threat and towards an escape route you
are likely to steer right into that oncoming vehicle. But as soon as you realized that you were
fixated on that vehicle your body started to manufacture a ton of adrenaline and pump it into
your bloodstream. You have started a 'fight or flight' panic attack.

All you need to do to get out of trouble is to TALK TO YOURSELF! You need to say
something like: 'I need to look where I want to go. Look away from that truck. That direction is
where I want to go. Come on, baby, let's go that way!'

Dumb, right? Well, it doesn't matter what words you use when talking to yourself. What
matters is that you tell yourself to do what has to be done. That kicks in the lessons learned
from all your prior practice and the job gets done.

In the case study found elsewhere on this site you will see an example of how this has saved
my bacon any number of times in the past. I was driving immediately behind another rider
who, as a result of target fixation, had a catastrophic accident. I had a passenger on my bike

at the time and, among other things, I resorted to telling myself: "Control stop this baby!" The
result, a smooth but rapid stop that avoided losing control (no locked brakes). Plenty of
adrenaline was running its course and trying to get in the way. No time to learn how to stop
quickly. Practice had prepared me, and all I needed was that little bridge - a brief chat with
myself that insisted that I DO SOMETHING that had to be done, NOW!

Practice is fundamentally important, and so is dealing with the adrenaline that tends to
confuse. No need to argue with yourself. Just a quick chat that starts the activity. Muscle
memory and familiarity gets the job done from there.

                                 Six things to do
                                     By James R. Davis

We all have our own unique way of doing things. Some people, for example, do exactly two
things before they dismount their bikes: they turn off their ignition switch and they put down
their side stand. Given a little thought about it, however, I think there are a few more details to
attend to (however 'uniquely') before we dismount our motorcycles, and if we make a habit of
doing them we can avoid some major trouble for ourselves.
  Use your engine cut-off switch to shut off your engine
Some people seem to think that switch is there for use only in an emergency. Not true. The
reason you use the engine cut-off switch rather than the ignition switch to shut off your engine
is because you do not have to take your hand off the grip in order to do so. Further, if you
make a habit of doing so you will build 'muscle memory' as to where it is so that you can
quickly and unerringly find it in the event of an emergency.
  Turn your ignition switch off

Obviously, unless you do this your lighting system is still on and your battery is discharging.
By the way, it is good form to get into the habit of using your LEFT hand to turn off the switch
(if possible) so that you can keep your front brake lever activated.

  Turn your fuel valve (if you have one) to the OFF position
A stuck needle valve in one of your carbs can allow a great deal of gasoline to leak past it. If a
needle valve should happen to stick while your motorcycle is left in your garage overnight,
that leaking gasoline can cost you your house and your life. When you start your motorcycle
you should always turn your fuel valve to the RUN/ON position. Thus, by making it a habit of
turning the valve off at night you also eliminate the risk of having left it in the reserve position
(had it been there when you last dismounted) and running out of gasoline on the road
  Put your side stand down - and confirm that it is locked in place

After leaning the bike onto the side stand you have insured that it is stable from side to side
before you try to dismount. (Your bike should be in first gear and you should push the bike
forward until all the play in your gears is gone before leaning the bike onto the side stand.)
  Turn your handlebars full-lock left

A motorcycle is several times more resistant to movement when the front wheel is not
pointing straight ahead. Even a gentle nudge from behind can cause a motorcycle that is on
its side stand to roll forward unless the front wheel is not pointing straight ahead.
  Squeeze the front brake lever

If you build these six steps into a habit that you always perform before dismounting, you are
serious about ALL aspects of motorcycle safety.

The ride is not over until you are safely dismounted.

 Magic? Undiscovered Law Of Physics? Does It
                Really Work?
                                    By James R. Davis

If you read the Case Study, you learned that Target Fixation is real. If you then read the
article that discussed Target Fixation, you learned how to use it to get out of trouble. In
essence, Target Fixation demonstrates pretty convincingly that your motorcycle goes where
you're looking. But why? Your eyes, after all, are not holding your handlebars and you
frequently scan directions other than the one you're travelling in without your bike wandering
all over the road. Is it magic? Or perhaps an undiscovered law of physics?

In the case study you learned that Karen was intimidated by the truck that she was fixated on.
She knew she was going to hit it and tried to lean away from the impact. In doing so what she
actually accomplished was to PUSH her bike away from her body and towards the truck.
What she should have done was to press the handgrip that was farthest away from the truck
in order to force the bike to lean away from that truck. And the way to have done that was to
look away from the truck and actively use counter-steering.

Besides fixating on the truck, Karen's mistake was that she actively counter-steered INTO the
truck instead of away from it. Might there be a connection between the two errors?

The idea that your motorcycle will go where you're looking is merely a shorthand way of
thinking about a phenomenon that virtually all drivers (of any kind of vehicle) have
experienced before: that if you turn your head you tend to STEER in the direction you're
looking. In fact, it might be clearer to simply acknowledge that it is HARD to steer in any
direction other than the one you are looking at. ALL of your prior experience has taught you
how to steer your vehicle where you want it to go. So, if you look where you want to go, you
kick in all that prior experience and AUTOMATICALLY steer in that direction.

There is no magic here nor is there a hidden law of physics involved. Your bike (or
automobile) TENDS to go in the direction you are looking because, via experience, you have
taught yourself to steer, more or less subconsciously.

To take advantage of that phenomenon you merely need to actively look in the direction you
want to go - away from danger. The rest is virtually subconscious reaction. Of course it takes
more than a turn of your eyes or even your head. You still need to steer away from danger.
Since it is HARD to steer away from what you're looking at, and easy (almost automatic) to
steer in the direction you are looking, surely it makes sense to look where you want to go.

But, you say, there are many times when you look in directions other than the one you want to
go. After all, one of the most important safety practices you engage in is to actively scan all
around you looking out for hazards. Why is it that your motorcycle does not wander all over
the road while you are scanning if it's true that it tends to go where you're looking? (More
often than not, it does!)

The answer to that question is that when you are scanning or looking in a direction other than
the one you want to go in you tell yourself to keep going in the direction you want - you turn
OFF your 'autopilot'. If you don't believe me, next time you're out on the road and it is safe to
do so, point your bike in the direction you want to go and look in any other direction. Notice
how a part of your mind is CONSTANTLY VERIFYING that you are still on course. You do not
normally have to do that - that's what your autopilot does for you.

[Keeping to the airplane analogy, we have been talking about how your eyes tend to control
your ailerons (roll or lateral controls). A moving motorcycle does not have the equivalent of
rudder or elevator controls.]

But we have also been well advised to keep our head and eyes 'up' and pointed at the
horizon. Surely looking down will not cause a motorcycle to go down, or will it?

Well, not directly. If you are in a skid, however, and look down the odds are overwhelming
that you will go down. That, because you will have failed to actively steer the bike in such a
way as to try to keep it upright. But that's only one reason why you should keep your head up
and eyes looking at the horizon. The other is that only by doing so can you actively scan for
hazards or know, for sure, if your bike is vertical. But that's another story.

                   A function of speed, not style
                                    By James R. Davis

If you have read some of my other articles you know that I am a strong advocate of covering
the front brake lever while I've been essentially quiet about whether or not you should cover
your clutch lever while riding.

Further, you probably know that I prefer to use two fingers to cover my brake and, when I do
cover my clutch, I prefer to cover it using all four fingers. So, what's the deal? What's the logic
that explains these differences?

First, let's look at why we cover a lever. Whether it's the brake or the clutch, the ONLY reason
we cover these controls is to reduce reaction time when we need to operate them. In

exchange for reduced reaction time we pay a price - we have less control of the
corresponding grip when some of our fingers are covering a lever instead of being in contact
with that grip.

The next question is not as obviously answered as the first one: When should you cover
those controls? The answer is that we cover them whenever we might have needed to quickly
use them, but NOT when quick usage of the control (or simply covering it) can be dangerous.

The brake lever is the one that most of us cover virtually all the time. Is there a time when it
should NOT be covered? You bet. At slow speeds, particularly when making turns. In these
cases the use of your front brake is often so counter-productive or dangerous that you are far
better off having the fingers of your right hand wrapped around the throttle.

Another time you want to keep your fingers off the brake lever is when you are about to
surmount an obstacle in the road. If you take a firm jolt to the front or back wheel you must
not lose your hold on the grip and having all of your fingers wrapped around it is your best
insurance against that happening.

So, it follows that in general you want to cover your front brake lever anytime you might have
to stop quickly. In other words, almost always if your motorcycle is moving faster than you can

But should you cover it with two fingers? Three? Four?

The answer to that question raises no end of controversy amongst seasoned riders. I suggest
that you use as many fingers as you are comfortable using over an extended period of time.
In my case, I use two fingers. If I try to use three, my hand gets cramped as I try to maintain
the other one in contact with the grip. If I use four fingers then without a wrist rest to give me
positive control of my throttle I find myself unable to smoothly control speed and my thumb
will cramp over time. Since the right grip is itself a control (throttle), it is my preference to use
two fingers to cover the brake lever and two to maintain contact with the throttle. Further,
using two fingers GREATLY reduces the odds that in a panic I might try the dangerous
practice of 'grabbing a handful' of brake.

When to cover your clutch lever is a little more subtle than when to cover your front brake
lever. However, since the left grip is not itself another control, when you do cover the clutch
you should use all four fingers. And, of course, the clutch lever can be squeezed until it
contacts the grip. That means that if you use less than four fingers to cover the lever you can
trap the other fingers between the lever and the grip.

The clutch is not used simply to disengage power from the rear wheel. Its friction zone is used
to act like a vernier control of speed and it is far more subtle in doing that job than the throttle
is, particularly at slow speeds. Thus, covering the clutch makes sense at slow speeds.

At higher speeds, however, covering the clutch is essentially useless. The price you pay to
cover the clutch at higher speeds is a diminished control of the left grip. Since the brake lever
should be covered when travelling at any reasonable speed, it makes sense to me that the
clutch should not.

And, like the brake lever, the clutch should NOT be covered if you are about to surmount an
obstacle in the road. This, to minimize the chance of losing control of the grip altogether.

Cover the clutch at slow speeds
Cover the brake at higher speeds

                 Different risks, different realities
                                      By James R. Davis

If all you had to do was ride in a straight line, almost anybody could handle a motorcycle. But
in the real world we have to negotiate turns with our bikes. While it is convenient to think
otherwise, it is simply not accurate to believe that making a right turn is exactly the same as
making a left one except for direction. There really are different risks and realities involved.

For example, in all countries where we ride on the right side of the road, right turns are
sharper than left turns, while the reverse is true in the other countries. (This article will focus
on the US road model.)

That means that right turns are harder to negotiate than left turns at any given speed. It also
means that in addition to being harder to negotiate, if you mismanage the turn and go wide,
you will find yourself in a lane of traffic that is running in the opposite direction. In a left turn
situation that you mismanage you will find yourself off the road entirely.

Which is more dangerous is largely a function of chance.

If, for example, there are no oncoming cars when you mismanage a right turn, at least you
remain on pavement and have the chance of recovering from going wide, but any oncoming
cars present you with a head-on collision as an alternative.

Running off the road in a mismanaged left turn may not be worse than taking a tumble, but it
could very well involve falling off a mountain.

While making right turns involves greater lean angles at any particular speed than a
corresponding left turn, there is usually MORE TRACTION available in a right turn than when
turning to the left. This, because most roads are crowned. Thus, while turning to the right the
road is cambered into the turn while turning left it is cambered away from the turn.

Left turns effectively provide you a narrower lane for use by your motorcycle. That is, because
you must lean a motorcycle in order to make a turn, you cannot ride as far to the left within
your lane when making a left turn as you might like without dragging your head or left grip
across the centre line and into the path of oncoming traffic. Unless there is a retaining wall
involved, motorcycles can use their entire lane width when making right turns.

Making a right turn at an intersection is FAR LESS dangerous than making a left turn at that
intersection. The most obvious reason being, of course, that you do not have to cross the
path of any oncoming traffic to do so. (As an aside, a pedestrian crossing the street at an
intersection is FAR LESS at risk if he keeps the centre of the intersection to his right rather
than to his left because immediate danger comes only from his left and less immediate
danger comes from easily visible sources.)

Turning left has two other dangers that are not present when making right turns: (1) The
possibility that your side stand is down and, because most road surfaces are crowned, (2) you
cannot lean a bike as far in a left turn as you can in a right turn without dragging some part of
the motorcycle against the pavement.

One final thought: If you make a left turn across an oncoming traffic lane your danger is not
restricted solely to that oncoming traffic. Before you actually make your left turn you must do a
head check to the left to insure that someone is not trying to pass you on the left! If you are

struck by that passing vehicle YOU ARE TO BLAME as you have performed an unsafe lane

 (Squeezing both levers gets you out of trouble)
                                     By James R. Davis

You will never forget that first ride. After hours of anticipation, much preparation,
familiarization with what seemed like hundreds of controls and some 'uncertainty' (read: self-
doubt), you suddenly found yourself straddling a motorcycle with its engine running, about to
shift into first gear for the first time.

No matter how big or small the engine is, and no matter how well prepared you are from a
theory of operation and the wearing of protective apparel points of view, you KNOW
something could go wrong and you wonder if you are making the biggest mistake of your life.

It is probable that someone has given you a lot of advice about what kinds of things to expect
today and what you should do to stay out of trouble. But a ton of advice can be confusing and
right now you are concentrating as hard as you can on what immediately concerns you:
holding both the clutch and front brake levers (probably too tightly), balancing the bike on its
wheels, the sound of the engine, and (your) breathing.

It's time. You, once again, insure that both the front brake and clutch levers are being held
firmly and probably even confirm (for the fifth time) that the green neutral light is still on. A
little more timidly than you expect, you press the gear shift lever down into first gear.

CLUNK! Your heart misses a beat and your adrenaline level climbs. 'Something' was
anticipated by you, but the 'clunk' is not 'exactly' what you expected. Once again you check
that your hands are holding those levers securely.

WAIT! I want you to REALLY understand the importance of that last check of the levers. Your
engine is running, your bike is in first gear, but because both levers are being utilized YOU
ARE NOT IN TROUBLE! The front brake lever is insuring that you are stopped, no matter
what the condition of the clutch and engine, and your clutch is insuring that you are not
applying power to the rear wheel, no matter what the speed of your engine is or the status of
your brakes. You have intellectualized these facts up until this point, but now it is absolutely
necessary that you BELIEVE them. That final check proved it to you.
  No matter what, if you get into trouble you can get out of it by simply
  squeezing both levers!
I have seen far too many students in various MSF classes pop their clutches and struggle
with getting their bikes back under control. Similarly, I have seen too many of them freeze at
their controls following a jumpy accelerator roll-on. In both cases, if they totally believed that
no matter what, squeezing both levers would get them out of trouble, they would have
recovered from their control problems quickly and safely.

Sure, if all they do is squeeze both levers they may end up falling down. If they happened to
be in a curve when they got into trouble, they should have straightened the bike up before
using the brake. So? These are total newbie’s I'm talking about. They lack experience that

would smooth out their use of the clutch and brake levers. They are probably moving at about
10 MPH when they get into trouble. They are probably moving in a straight line.

All I'm trying to say here is that they must know that THEY HAVE THE ABILITY TO GET OUT
OF TROUBLE by simply squeezing both levers. With more experience there are lots more
things they can do, but as newbie’s, they could do far worse than squeezing the levers, but
not much better.

         NEED to GROW before you stress them
                                     By James R. Davis

Once again I heard well intentioned experienced riders only partially explain to some newbie’s
that they needed to be careful after putting new tires on their bikes. They were told that this
was because the new tires do not have as much traction on them until they are scuffed up a

It is not that I dispute that fact - new tires do provide less traction until the new-tire coating is
worn off of them. But that is not the whole story and if no more is said about them an
inexperienced rider could do something very foolish and dangerous if they rely simply on that

They could, for example, scuff the new tires using an abrasive just after mounting them and
then take off to tackle some twisties. Lower traction would not, then, be a significant problem.
But that is a far cry from saying that the new tires would be safely usable in stress situations
as a result.

ALL new tires grow during the first hundred miles or so of use. It is absolutely essential that
you allow them to do so before putting them to a stress test such as attempting to
aggressively navigate a set of twisties. Why? Because it is the process of growing that results
in a tight and secure bead to rim seating. If you put the tires to undue stress before their
beads have seated to the wheel rims there is a possibility that you will experience a
catastrophic loss of air while heeled over in a turn.

Rather than using an abrasive to convert a new tire into a used one, better by far to ride on
them for a hundred miles or so. Besides, it's more fun doing it that way.

[New or used, before you stress your tires in the twisties you MUST allow them to get warm
first. Traction available on a cold tire is significantly less than for a warm one. Similarly, if you
are doing a lot of twisties and your tires get HOT, traction is diminished. Maximum traction
exists only under normal operating temperatures.]

     Are less risky in city traffic than on country
                                    By James R. Davis

There are two kinds of drowsy drivers:
  The other guy
Both can kill you.

Maybe I should offer a definition for 'drowsy' before launching any further into this discussion.
There are two kinds of fatigue: physical and mental. When a person is experiencing mental
fatigue he is, as far as I'm concerned, both tired and drowsy. This is far more than a state of
being close to falling asleep. It involves:

        •    loss of alertness
        •    decreased ability (and/or willingness) to scan and recognize danger
        •    increased reaction times
        •    decreased motivation (willingness, again)
        •    slower mental processes like decision making
I suppose it has escaped none of you that these are exactly the same symptoms evidenced
by a person who is intoxicated or using certain medications (read: drugs).

What is particularly dangerous, it seems to me, is that a drowsy driver is sometimes not even
aware of his diminished capacities. Take, for example, the driver who is suffering from 'road
hypnosis' who can be seen actually driving his vehicle (subconsciously) yet is oblivious to
hazards in the road ahead and who does not even realize that his lack of hazard detection (or
collision avoidance) activity is itself a hazard.

It turns out that drowsy drivers are more dangerous to you if they are driving on country roads
away from traffic than if they find themselves having to contend with city traffic. This, because
when driving in city traffic they receive relatively frequent 'notice' of their drowsiness -
sometimes because they hear/feel their tires running over lane dividers, sometimes because
other drivers honk their horns or flash their lights in an effort to get their attention, sometimes
because they are forced to make more decisions (shifting, for example).

If it turns out that YOU are the drowsy driver, the odds of falling asleep are relatively small.
Operating a motorcycle involves so much activity and attention that it is very rare indeed that
a rider will fall asleep. On the other hand, because it does take so much attention and
alertness to handle a motorcycle, drowsiness should be a major concern to all of us.

Similarly, statistics gathered by accident investigators suggest that very few accidents happen
because a car/truck driver actually falls asleep as compared to those that happen because a
drowsy driver fails to detect a hazard or fails to take proper collision avoidance action.

Since a drowsy driver is often unaware of how diminished his capacities are, if you are tired
you are well advised to stop driving as soon as possible. If you are away from city traffic, be
extraordinarily careful until you can find a place to stop for some rest or for the night because
you will receive far less 'notice' or reminders of your drowsiness than if you are driving in
normal city traffic.

      'Skill' is often no more than CONFIDENCE
                                    By James R. Davis

Some time ago I was riding with a group down a back-country road when our group leader
decided that we needed to perform our 'mandatory' U-turn. The road had two lanes (one in
each direction) and there was no oncoming traffic.

With only one exception everybody made a 'three-point' manoeuvre. That is, we turned
across the road and stopped when we could not keep going without running off the pavement,
then backed up after turning the front wheel, stopped and turned the front wheel again and
proceeded to complete the manoeuvre.

There was, as I said, one exception. This rider was on a relatively new GoldWing and he was
carrying a passenger. Further, he is a BIG man - well over 6' tall and well over 300 pounds.

This man simply aggressively leaned his bike over and drove his bike through the entire 180
degree turn without needing to stop or running out of pavement.

The chatter on the CB was filled with compliments relative to his profound skill with his bike.
Those compliments started again at our next rest stop. They were well deserved
compliments. But they were misdirected.

That is, what should have been complimented, in my opinion, was the rider's CONFIDENCE
rather than his skill.

Don't get me wrong - the man demonstrated lot's of skill. He had demonstrated a mastery of
his clutch, his throttle, and his HEAD!

With even modest skill almost anyone can lean a bike far enough in a slow-speed turn to drag
a peg - but very few of us want to or would even try to get close to that big a lean because we
do not KNOW that we can do it successfully. Why? Because we lack confidence in either our
machine or ourselves. So, we compromise and do what we KNOW we can do - we make a
three-point U-turn on a narrow road.

And how is it that this BIG man developed the confidence to make that slow-speed hard lean
needed to complete his smooth U-turn? He had lots of experience. Experience gained from
lot's of practice.

Whether you call it skill or confidence, this man handles his bike very well indeed. He
deserves recognition and regard, and he certainly gets both from me. Further, his U-turn
manoeuvre took substantially less time than mine did. In other words, he was at risk for far
less time than I was. THAT aspect of the value of experience never occurred to me before -
confidence can reduce time at risk.

So, schedule some time on a regular basis and go out and practice, practice, practice. Earn
the respect and regard of your friends by increasing your confidence/skills. Potentially reduce
your at-risk time while on the road.

Practice increases confidence. Confidence shows as 'skill.' Over-confidence, however, can
kill. The difference between the two, of course, is that being confident means you know you
can do something, being over-confident means you think you can.

Making a U-turn like my friend did may not be the most important thing you will ever have to
do, but failing to negotiate a curve at high speed because you lack confidence enough to lean
the bike just a bit more is simply unacceptable motorcycling.

                           (The pavement ends)
                                    By James R. Davis

Sooner or later you are going to find yourself riding on a road where the pavement has ended
and stretched before you is crushed rock. You tighten those pucker muscles and slow down,
and you decide to keep going.

Last week a small group of us were confronted with just such a challenge. The group
consisted of a Magna in the lead, followed by a Valkyrie, followed finally by my GoldWing.
The lead bike, Elaine, had asked if we all wanted to try it and she heard us all agree to do so.
She asked again about 1/4 miles into the stretch because it was far more difficult than it had
looked like it would be. This, because some of those rocks turned out to be the size of a small
clenched fist. Again, we all agreed to keep going - but, honestly, by then it would have been
more dangerous to try to stop and turn around.

I was carrying a passenger on my GoldWing. Fortunately he has accumulated about 3,000
miles on the back of my Wing and was game for the effort. Had my passenger been
inexperienced I would not have attempted that road. Even a little squirming would have
resulted in loss of control of the bike.

There were a pair of tire tracks where the rocks were more densely packed and more uniform
than the rest of the roadway. Each driver elected to try to ride along one of those tracks.
Since I had been riding in the left track before the pavement ended I chose to stay there. That
decision, I now believe, was a mistake. More about that in a minute, however so there is no
suspense in the matter; all three of us managed the problem without incident.

God bless gyroscopic force! Though we would constantly find our tires riding up and over
large rocks, most of the time they tried glancing blows with the rocks and found that the rocks
would squirt out to one side while the tire shifted laterally to the other. We found that so long
as our speed remained above about 20 MPH we could keep going but if we went any slower
the bikes were so unstable that it would be only a matter of time before dumping them.
Clearly gyroscopic forces made the difference.

On the other hand, going too much faster than that was unthinkable. This, because the bikes
could not be kept on a straight line no matter how much effort was used, and there was two-
way traffic on that road. In the event that one of the bikes found itself in the path of an
oncoming car there was nothing for it but to stop - and the odds were high that the bike would
fall down if we used ANY front brake to try to slow down. So, we drove at a speed where front
brake was NEVER NEEDED.

I have heard, as I'm sure you have, that if you drive a bike with integrated braking (like the
GoldWing) you cannot apply the rear brake without applying the front one. Nonsense!

As I already pointed out, trying to slow down by using the front brake on such treacherous
footing would probably have resulted in a dumped bike. How do you use the rear brake
without using the front one? By using the engine for most of your braking. You drive in a low
enough gear so that you can roll off the throttle to slow down and you can use your clutch
friction-zone to moderate speed precisely.

As to picking which tire track to ride on if you have a choice, I suggest that you select the right
one. Despite trying to stay in those tracks there were times when large loose rocks forced our
front tires out of them. You will recall that when riding into a pool of standing water your
motorcycle or other vehicle will feel substantial drag and it slows down. Similarly, when your
tire is forced out of a relatively well packed tire track and onto the more loosely packed
roadbed nearby you will feel greater drag and your bike will slow down.

That happened more than a couple of times during the ride, but one of those times was a
white knuckler. My front tire was forced to the left out of the track and the bike slowed down.
Giving it a little gas made the front-end a little lighter and just then it received a series of
glancing blows that pushed it farther and farther to the left. Indeed, in a matter of 2 seconds I
had moved FOUR FEET to the left - directly into the path of an approaching truck! I managed
to SMOOTHLY force the bike over to the right and back into the tire track I had left before that
truck got too close to me. In fact, I kept going and got into the right track. [I'm told by my
passenger that his eyes could not have opened more widely than during those two seconds
as he kept telling himself not to move. He REALLY wanted to shift his weight away from that
oncoming truck, but wisely just held on. (See what experience and practice can do for you?)]

After returning to paved road the tension snapped back to normal levels and riding once again
was fun. At our first stop thereafter we compared notes. Following is what we agreed to:

  If you have a passenger who is either inexperienced or who has not developed a
  profound trust in your abilities, do not voluntarily attempt to ride on unpaved roads.
  Drive in either 1st or 2nd gear so that you can use engine braking as necessary and
  so that you can use your clutch friction-zone to precisely control speed.
  Do not drive slower than about 20 MPH in order to allow your wheel gyroscopes to
  help you.
  Do not drive much faster than 20 MPH so that you can totally avoid using your front
  brake to slow down.
  Do not 'white knuckle' your grips - you need to ride with a firm grip on the bars, but
  you must be loose enough to prevent transmitting all the instability of the front-end
  to the rest of the bike.
  EVERYTHING you do must be done SMOOTHLY.
  Given a choice, ride in the right-most tire track to keep you away from any oncoming

                                    By James R. Davis

As agile as we know our motorcycles are there are times when two wheels simply are not up
to the tasks we present to them - unless we know HOW.

For example, assume you are riding along and notice that there is a trough in the middle of
the road extending for as far as the eye can see. It also just happens to be about four inches
wide and about one inch deep. Like a magnet, that trough sucks your front wheel into it, the
rear wheel obligingly joins it and suddenly your wheels are trapped. You cannot steer out of it.

OK, OK, I can hear it now: 'Get real!'

Fine, so it's not down the centre of the road. It's along side and some people would call it a
rain gutter.

Or it is down the middle of the road, but it only has one side - they resurfaced the road, one
lane higher than the one next to it.

Or you eased off the pavement and there was about a one inch drop to the apron beyond.

Or you are on a surface street and pull over to the curb and your front tire slides right up
against the curb, parallel to it.

You get the picture. There are all kinds of traps out there that we don't normally have to deal
with but that can be encountered at any time, and you will have no choice but to deal with

In every case I described above the problem is that you must either ride up and over one side
of the obstacle or you must turn away from that obstacle - both of which turn out to be more
difficult than first expected.

The problem, of course, is that you often simply cannot turn your wheel because it *IS*
trapped. An effort to turn away from the curb that your front tire is hugging finds that the rear
edge of the tire must push against the curb in order for the front edge to turn away from it. A
mere one inch of height is sufficient to stop you cold - your bike will fall over before you can
turn the wheel.

In this particular case you have no choice but to stop completely, lean the bike away from the
trap, and walk the bike free.

  Never get within 6" of a raised surface that runs parallel to the direction you are
If the surface is only 1" high you can ride over it without much concern so long as you
approach it at any meaningful angle. (Greater than 20 degrees.)

Anything higher than about 1" and you must put as great an angle of attack to it as possible.
Ideally you want to cross over it with a 90 degree (perpendicular) angle.

  Always approach a trap that you must cross over with more than a 20 degree attack
It is not so much that you should fear that your front tire will fail to get over the trap; it is that
you must be concerned about getting your rear tire over it. What happens if your attack angle
is low is that you instinctively turn your front wheel into the trap to get over it, so it does, but
your rear tire, having a lower attack angle, slides along the trap rather than going over it. This
immediately twists your bike into the turn and presents an ever increasing attack angle for
that rear tire. At some point (quickly) the attack angle will be sufficient and the rear tire will
grab and ride over the obstacle. Unfortunately, while it was sliding along you and your bike
turned the front wheel in the direction of the slide. Thus, when that rear tire grabs it is
analogous to the classic conditions of a high side. About 2/3s of a second later you will hit the

  Before trying to ride over a trap that is relatively close to you, turn away from it and

  then towards it in order to build the largest attack angle possible.
About 1/2 second before your front tire hits the obstacle, accelerate. That unloads your front
shocks. At the same time shift your weight to your pegs and lift your butt off the seat. When
the rear tire hits the trap the rear-end of the bike will get quite a vertical jolt - possibly enough
to throw you off the seat and cause you to have to fight for control if you have not already
raised that derriere.

                                 How To Handle It
                                By Allan R. Kirk
                    New Zealand Motorcycle Safety Consultants

It was the late 1970s and Graham Hilder was riding home from late duty as a technician at the
airport in Wellington, New Zealand's capital city. At one intersection a car did something silly
and Graham made an angry gesture at the driver. It wasn't a wise idea. As Graham rode
away from the intersection the car, full of irate gang members, came after him. Graham was
riding an older bike and he knew that, while he might be able to outrun the car, he risked
crashing and being attacked. So he headed for a side street he knew.

Once in it, with the gang members' car hot on his heels he accelerated to the end ... around
some barriers and into a pedestrian subway that goes underneath the Wellington airport. The
car full of gang members screeched to a halt at the barriers and the gang members could only
sit and watch the receding tail light of Graham's motorcycle.

When Graham told me this story I was impressed by the coolness and cunning he exhibited in
this situation. But, after talking to other experienced riders and the Police, and having spent
many years studying motorcycle riding crisis and their causes, I've learned, just as Graham
knew, that there are certain basic rules that must be obeyed if one wishes to emerge
triumphant in times of trouble on a motorcycle.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

According to recent research by the Heidleburg University Hospital in Germany, riders who
pre-plan their crashes are less likely to be seriously injured in a crash. It's the same in any
safety field. If you are prepared for a crisis, you're more likely to survive that crisis than those
who aren't. Graham Hilder was prepared for his crisis. He knew about the subway and had
previously considered the possibility of riding a motorcycle through it. Planning for an
emergency is not only about how to survive crashes but covers all aspects of motorcycle
riding crises including situations like Graham's, and even what to do when a policeman stops
you for speeding. Just considering worst-case scenarios puts you mentally on your toes in a
crisis, and that can make all the difference between a crisis being a disaster or a disturbance.

Look first, and then act.

In a crisis, too many people react before thinking. There are the people who drag injured
people out of crashed cars and make their injuries worse that they were before they were
moved, or the people who remove the crash helmet from an injured motorcyclist and leave
him permanently paralysed. In a crash situation no one who you can save will die in the
minute it takes to survey the crash scene (for things like downed power lines, leaking petrol

and other problems), and in quickly forming a plan of attack to deal with the crisis. In a riding
crisis, you should not react instantly unless your reactions are thoroughly pre-planned. For
example, what would you do when you are riding in the right hand wheel track and an
oncoming car swerves onto your side of the road and starts heading towards you? How many
of you answered that you would immediately brake and move to the left of your lane? The
correct answer is to react at the last safe minute. Certainly you should brake and move
towards the centre of the lane as soon as you see the problem arise, but wait and watch the
oncoming car for clues to its future movements before you react dramatically. And don't forget
that if you brake to a stop, you're a sitting target! Remember, look first, and then act.

When you do act, act aggressively.

Too often, people who are in a crisis situation do not react vigorously enough. This is often
the result of not having practiced emergency riding techniques. You may have pre-planned
your counter-steering response to a large rock in the middle of the road, but can you counter-
steer aggressively enough to get around it? You may know the situations where your only
defence is to brake very hard but can you brake aggressively? When did you last practice
really aggressive counter-steering and braking? Incidentally, acting aggressively is no
contradiction of the "look first, and then act" idea. Confronting a riding crisis is like turning
through a gap in oncoming traffic. Once you've decided the opportunity has come to act, do
what you have to do without hesitation!

Use every bit of help you can get.

A police officer is trained to call for back-up as soon as he sets off in pursuit of an offender.
The real professional uses every bit of help he can get. Ex-World Champion motorcycle racer
Kenny Roberts readily admits that, today, many of the motorcycle racers out on the track are
better riders than he was. The reason is simple - he's trained them to be as good as he was
and they've gone on from there building up their skills. The rider who rides well and often, and
who survives with the least scratches is the guy who uses every bit of help he can get to
improve his riding skills. As motorcycle technology improves by leaps and bounds, as traffic
density increases layer by layer, and as road hazards get more deadly by the day, the
average rider needs every bit of help he or she can get to get painless fun from his or her
machine. Read books, talk to mates, attend riding courses and read media crash reports for
clues on survival techniques.

Don't get locked on one detail.

The most common open road fatal crash in New Zealand is where the rider fails to make a
corner and crashes into a piece of road side furniture, usually a lamppost or a large
fencepost. The reason is simple. The rider's attention and eyes focus in fear on the post and
the bike goes where the rider looks - into the post! Where you are at risk of crashing into a
car, don't look at the car - look for a gap. Get the big picture. Don't focus too tightly.

No matter how bad things get, be truthful.

If you crash and blame everyone else but yourself for the crash, you'll never learn anything
from the crash and the next one may be your last. Other drivers may invite you to a crash, but
you have to accept the invitation. So, if you crash, sit down and think it through and see what
YOU did wrong. (The NZMSC is presently developing a post crash self-analysis system for
this purpose. We'll keep you posted.)

Let the crisis go.

Too many riders never go through the self-analysis process we mention above and they ride
in fear of the same thing happening again. Riding nervous is completely different from riding
warily. Riding warily is watchful but relaxed and smooth. Nervous riding is uncertain, tense,
and unsmooth and actually places the rider at more risk of crashing again. If you can't relax
on your bike after a crash you either haven't exorcised the "at fault" demons or you need to
give up riding. Sometime in their riding life everyone has a riding crisis or two. How they

handle that crisis decides whether that crisis will turn out to be an unmitigated disaster - or a
learning opportunity and the greatest triumph of their life.

                     How to calculate where it is
                                    By James R. Davis

Many of the tips published here have, in one way or another required a 'feeling' for where the
Centre of Gravity on your bike is. No manufacturer, however, publishes that information and,
of course, the CG changes based on how heavy the rider is, how he sits in the saddle, and
how luggage is loaded. How, then, can one determine where the CG is on their motorcycle?

I will present here a method for you to determine with a high degree of accuracy where the
location of your CG is and ask in return that if you follow this procedure you send me the
results. I am trying to build a database of 'typical' results and would greatly appreciate your

There are two configurations that are of interest: with and without a rider. Given
measurements for both configurations you can rather easily predict the consequences of
adding a passenger or unusual luggage.

You will need to be able to measure weights and distances. Thus, you will need a scale and a
tape measure. A bathroom scale will work just fine, even if you need to weigh something
heavier than it is calibrated to measure.

The easiest dimension to find is where the Centre of Gravity lies relative to your wheelbase.
You will recall that on a level surface the total weight of your bike is distributed onto both
wheels in direct proportion to where the CG lies on your wheelbase. If, for example, the CG
was directly over your front tire then 100% of the weight of the bike would be on the front tire
and there would be no weight on the rear tire. If the CG was 55% of the distance along the
wheelbase from the centre of the front-wheel contact patch to the centre of the contact patch
of the rear wheel, then 55% of the total weight of the bike would be on the rear tire and only
45% on the front one.

From this fact we see that in order to find the horizontal location of the CG all we have to do is
determine the weight on each tire. Similarly, we now know how to use a bathroom scale to
measure those weights, even if they exceed the limits of the scale.

We need to place a board between the scale and a surface the same height as the scale, and
place the wheel we want to weigh somewhere on that board. By measuring the length of the
board and where the tire rests on it at the time of the measurement, we can convert what the
scale tells us is the weight into what it really weighs.

For example, let us say that the length of the board from the point one end of it touches the
scale to the point the other end touches what it is resting on is 24 inches. (You might add
small 1x1" pieces of wood to your board at each of these contact points to insure accuracy of
your measurements.)

Before you place the wheel on the board note the weight on the scale. Let's say it shows 2
pounds. You then place the front tire on the board and measure the distance from the point
the board contacts the scale to the centre of the contact patch of the tire. Let's say that turns
out to be 10 inches. 10 divided by 24 is .417, thus, 41.7% of the weight of the wheel will be on
the end of the board away from the scale and 58.3% will be on the scale itself.
In other words, if the scale shows a weight of 152 pounds, then the actual weight of the wheel
is (152-2)/.583 = 257 pounds.

So, now it's time to determine the horizontal location of the CG. Measure the weight of the
front wheel and then the weight of the rear wheel (without a rider on the bike.) The total
weight of the bike is then merely the sum of these two weights.

If, for example, the front wheel weighs 400 pounds and the rear wheel weighs 450 pounds
then the total weight of the bike is 850 pounds.

Now you need to measure the length of the wheelbase. This is the distance between the
centre of the front-wheel contact patch and the centre of the rear-wheel contact patch. (Your
owner's manual will list this length for you.)

From the above we have learned that 52.9% of the weight of the bike is on the rear wheel
(450/850). Thus, the CG must be 52.9% of the wheelbase from the FRONT tire's contact
patch. If the wheelbase is 64", then the CG must be located slightly less than 34" from the
front contact patch (64 * .529 = 33.856).

Repeat the measurements with a rider in the saddle. You will find that the Centre of Gravity
has moved towards the rear of the bike.
Measuring the height of your CG is a great deal more difficult to accomplish. It is difficult for
most people even to visualize. The process involves lifting the rear-end at least 1 foot off the
ground and then measuring the weight of the front wheel.

Let me describe a couple of things that should help explain why this will tell us how high the
CG is.

When you lift the rear-end you are shortening the wheelbase. That is, the horizontal distance
between the contact patches is physically shorter than when the bike is level. (If you lifted the
rear-end so that it was directly above the front wheel the wheelbase would be reduced to

If the Centre of Gravity happened to be located at exactly the height of the wheelbase
(actually, if it was at the height of the front wheel hub) then its relative location along the
wheelbase would remain constant. It would continue to be at 52.9% of the wheelbase away
from the front contact patch. That is, whether the bike was level or not the weight on the front
wheel would remain the same.

However, if the CG is higher than the front wheel hub then lifting the rear-end will cause it to
move disproportionately closer to the front wheel contact patch. If, for example, the CG was
located 1 mile above the bike, then lifting the rear-end of the bike only a few inches would
cause the CG to move so far forward it would actually be well forward of the front wheel. Your
CG is not located 1 mile above the bike, but it is located higher than the hub of your front
wheel. Thus, it will move disproportionately towards the front wheel as you lift the rear one.

In other words, if we lift the rear wheel the front wheel will get heavier and the rear wheel will
get lighter. The higher the CG is relative to the height of the front-wheel hub, the heavier
the front-end will become for any given lift of the rear wheel.

The diagram above shows the rear-end of a motorcycle lifted off the ground and what effect
that has on the movement of the Centre of Gravity towards the front of the bike. The diagram
shows a lift considerably greater than 1 foot in order to clearly demonstrate the concepts
By simply weighing the front wheel and measuring how high we have lifted the rear-end we
can calculate all other measurements, including the height of the CG above the ground.
Please note that because the CG is higher than the hub of the front wheel (around which we
pivoted the lifted bike) it has shifted towards the front of the bike distance 'A' which is
considerably greater than the shortening of the bike's wheelbase ('B'). (Had the CG been at
the same height as the front-wheel hub then distance 'A' would have been only about 50% of
distance 'B'.) In other words, the front-end of the bike must have gotten heavier as a result of
lifting the rear-end of the bike, and the amount of added weight on the front-end is a
function of how high the CG is relative to the height of the front-wheel hub.

We will use a little trigonometry to calculate what the height of the CG must be simply by
determining how much weight has been added to the front wheel while the rear-end of the
bike is lifted. Not to worry, I will give you a formula that is easy to perform in order to get the
results. Even easier, at the end of this article I have provided an Excel model that will do all
the calculations for you.

Please note that you will probably require at least one other person to help you with these

When you lift the rear wheel you do so in one of two ways: you rest the rear tire on a raised
surface or you lift the rear wheel via jacks located on the rear wheel hubs. What you cannot
do is lift the bike with a jack located anywhere else.

These are the measurement you will need:

L1 = Length of wheelbase while bike is level
H1 = Height of front hub off the ground
H2 = Height of rear wheel hub above the front wheel hub (how high the rear-end has been
W1 = Weight of front wheel when bike is level
W2 = Weight of rear wheel when bike is level
W3 = Weight of front wheel when bike is lifted

Wt = Total bike weight = W1 + W2
Wf = Weight added to front wheel because of lift = W3 - W1
Ln = New wheelbase = Sqrt(L1^2 - H2^2)

Assuming you have lifted the rear wheel at least 1 foot (the measurement is more reliable if
you can lift it higher), then the height of the CG is found with the following formula:

Height of CG = H1 + (Wf * L1 * Ln) / (Wt * H2)

Let's do an example.

Assume we have made our measurements as follows:

L1 = 64"
H1 = 13"
H2 = 14" (We lifted the bike 14")
W1 = 400 lbs.
W2 = 450 lbs.
W3 = 440 lbs.

From these numbers we calculate:

Wt = 850 lbs. = W1 + W2
Wf = 40 lbs. = W3 - W1
Ln = 62.45" = sqrt(64*64 - 14*14)

Plugging the numbers into the formula we get:

H = 13" + (40 lbs * 64" * 62.45") / (850 lbs * 14")
H = 13" + 159,873 / 11,900
H = 13" + 13.43"
H = 26.43"

The CG of the driverless motorcycle has been found to be about 26 1/2 inches above the
ground and about 34 inches behind the contact patch of the front wheel.

When you repeat these measurements with a rider in the saddle you will find that the CG
moves towards the rear and gets higher.
I know this is a lot of work and that not many of you will be interested in doing that work
because, after all, knowing exactly where your Centre Of Gravity is located does not make for
a safer ride. But having a feel for where it is and what happens to it when the bike is carrying
luggage/passenger or if it is not perfectly level *IS* one more bit of understanding that cannot
be worthless in your quest for that safe ride. For any of you that do perform these
measurements I ask again that you send me the results.

Thank you.

Below is an example of a Model/Calculator for use by those of you with Excel to do the
calculations described.

                                   By James R. Davis

My guess is that about half of the motorcycles on the road that have luggage compartments
are carrying a highly inflammable if not outright explosive 'tool' somewhere in those bags.

Not black powder. Not gasoline. Not plastique.

It's usually called WD-40!

This is a wonder product of amazingly useful application. It is also prone to turning into a
fireball when exposed to spark or fire or a lit cigarette.

The manufacturer, I'm told, has recently begun packaging WD-40 using one of two different
propellants - one of them remains hydrocarbon based and highly flammable, the other is not.
You need to read the package closely to find out which one you have in your saddlebags, but
the vast majority are the more flammable variety.

By the way, for those of you who have chain drives, the last place in the world you want to
spray WD-40 is on your chain! It is a DEgreaser, after all.

                         What evil lurks in the ...
                                    By James R. Davis

While I was reviewing the list of tips I have posted here it occurred to me that I have left out
some of the more obvious in favour of the less obvious.

A reader sent me a message the other day containing one such tip that demonstrates what I

  If your shadow is directly in front of you, the longer it is, the harder it is for
  oncoming traffic to see you.

Besides being a good indicator of how visible you might or might not be, shadows are worth
looking out for because they mark where the ground is cooler than its surroundings. This is
critically important on very cold days as they may mark the location of otherwise hidden
stretches of ice.

                               Brake NOT Locked
                                     By James R. Davis

It has been said here (exhaustively) that I consider there never to be a time when
aggressively using the rear brake makes sense. I have used as my argument the high
likelihood that should you do so you will probably lock the rear brake and, if you then release
that brake (and sometimes without releasing it), potentially cause a high side.

That your rear wheel, if spinning, provides gyroscopic stability for about 80% of your
motorcycle has also been repeated several times. Thus, if you lock your rear wheel you have
by definition made your bike essentially unstable.

But what I have failed to discuss is how to handle a rear-wheel slide if you have not stopped
its spin. For example, assume you are in a curve and you encounter some sand that causes
your rear tire to break away. What do you do about that? Is all lost? Must you end up riding
the ground instead of your motorcycle as a result?

First, I want to make a few comments that might seem out of place in this discussion.

  Over-controlling your motorcycle is dangerous.
  Over-reacting is similarly dangerous.
  Your motorcycle, more times than not, attempts to correct instability by itself
  requiring NO INPUT WHATEVER from the rider.
  Centrifugal force does NOT push you away from the centre of a curve.
Virtually all riders know that if a bike begins to slide in a turn you should turn your front wheel
in the direction of the slide. What too few riders seem to know is that *YOU* don't have to do
anything and the bike will, of its own accord, turn the front wheel in the direction of a slide.
Your only real job is to not inhibit that self-correcting effort by the bike.

Should you try to 'steer into the slide' and either over- or under-shoot the amount of turn
required to offset the slide you place the bike into an even less stable configuration. In other
words, over-controlling is dangerous.

Similarly, over-reacting to a bit of instability almost invariably makes things worse. When you
ride over rain grooves and your front-end becomes squirrelly, if you put a death-grip on your
handlebars you merely cause the instability of the front-end to be broadcast through your
arms into the rest of the motorcycle. If your rear-end squirts briefly to the side (slides) while in
a curve, corrective action on your part can turn it into a disaster just as easily as it might 'cure'
the problem.

While the rear wheel continues to spin there is essentially no danger that your bike is going to
fall down - gyroscopic forces are tremendously strong. Further, unless your slide is the result
of hitting an oil slick or ice, you have not LOST traction, just diminished it. You are still able to
accelerate (or VERY MODESTLY decelerate) while in a slide.

And though it certainly feels like centrifugal force is attempting to push you away from the
centre of a curve, in fact what it does is attempt to make you go in a straight line tangential to
that curve.

Thus, as your slide progresses there is less and less centrifugal force at play. That means
that more and more traction is becoming available to the tire. In other words, if you do

NOTHING (other than allow your front-end to steer itself in the direction of the slide), the odds
are overwhelming that the slide will end of its own accord.

There are three things that you could do:

  Slow down - WRONG, WRONG, WRONG - this causes weight transfer to reduce what
  traction you have left and the bike will almost certainly end up on its side.
  Nothing but allow the front-end to steer itself into the slide - works most of the time
  and requires no skill whatever.
  Modestly accelerate - increases rear-wheel traction and shortens the slide - but
  requires a gentle touch (skill).
Honest! The best course of action for almost anybody is to let it slide.

Look at any motorcycle race film and you will observe that 100% of the turns are negotiated
with the rear wheel sliding! Nothing magic about that, now that you know what's going on.

Aren't you glad, now, that your motorcycle generally has over-steer rather than under-steer
built in? There is essentially no 'fix' if your front-end slides out from under you while in a
curve. But if the rear wheel continues to spin, it can slide a little and you can continue your
ride, a little more 'puckered' but none the worse for it.

                                   Brake Locked
                                    By James R. Davis

Of all the articles that I have written here none has generated as much controversy and
negative feedback as has the very first one - High side Dynamics.

It seems that a large number of riders simply will not buy the fact that a sliding rear wheel, if
travelling in a straight line, is a big deal. They have, after all, experienced a rear-wheel skid
during their MSF classes and the bikes always tracked essentially a straight line as they came
to a full stop. Their conclusion, therefore, is that a rear-wheel skid in a straight line is not
particularly dangerous and that releasing the rear-brake is not particularly dangerous after
such a skid has begun.

At the same time, these riders evidence virtual paranoia about the dangers of a front-wheel
skid - straight line or not.

Permit me to point out a few things about the MSF rear-wheel skid exercise that makes it less
than a good example of what happens in the real world.

  You lock your rear-brake while travelling at speeds of about 20 MPH during the
  You are NOT applying your front brake when you lock your rear one.
  The MSF range is, invariably, flat - i.e., without slope or camber.
  The exercise uses small bikes that do not have luggage compartments that, in the

  real world, are almost certainly unbalanced in terms of load.
So? So how long can you keep your bike standing straight up before you have to put your feet
down when you come to a complete stop? About a second, right? At 20 miles per hour it
takes about 1 second to come to a complete stop if you lock your rear brake. In other words,
you do not have sufficient time during this exercise to experience the effects of having lost the
gyroscopic stabilization from a spinning rear wheel.

[At this point I should point out that, despite what you may believe, your balance is not a
function of speed. The question I asked above is misleading. I should have asked, 'how long
can you keep your bike straight up after your wheels stop turning?' Balance is affected
primarily by the gyroscopic stabilization provided by your spinning rear wheel, not speed.]

What is significant about the fact that you do not apply your front-brake during the exercise?
In the real world, during a panic stop you usually apply both brakes, not just the rear one.
Why this is important is that if your front brakes are applied when your rear-wheel begins to
skid, the rear wheel can begin to slow slower than does the front wheel. In such a case the
rear wheel will move in the direction of slide faster than does the front wheel - it will 'catch up
with' the front wheel. To do so it must skew to one side or the other from the track directly
behind the front wheel.

In the real world our roadways are almost always cambered to facilitate the runoff of rain
water. A sliding rear wheel usually skews (yaws) in the direction of that camber.

Whenever the rear wheel skews from a straight line, because of how the frame and front-end
are connected together via your triple-tree (at an angle), the body of the bike must lean in the
direction away from the skew. i.e., the bike will attempt to lay 'down' as the first step in a
'lowside'. [Actually, the leaning of the bike in the direction it is heaviest occurs FIRST followed
by the skew.]

The fact that luggage is virtually never perfectly balanced means that the bike will tend to
skew away from the heavier side of its load. The more out of balance the load is, the more
certain the skew will be in the direction of the lighter side - and the faster that skewing will

If ANY skewing has begun then your bike is in exactly the attitude it would be in if a rear-end
slide had begun in a curve rather than in a straight line. Release of the rear-brake before
skewing has advanced beyond perhaps 10 degrees results in a sharp torque to bike (and
rider) as the rear-wheel regains traction and straightens out - usually not enough to throw the
rider. But a skew greater than that leads to such a terrifically powerful torque if traction is
regained that the rider and motorcycle can easily be thrown into the air - called a 'high side'.

For those of you that insist that the MSF would not allow this rear-brake locking exercise if it
was as dangerous as I suggest, I will remind you that they have made the exercise 'optional'
during the experienced rider course where you use your own motorcycle rather than the small
ones provided during the beginner course - if you have any form of integrated braking. That
is, if when you apply only your rear brake one of your front brakes is automatically applied,
the exercise is optional for you. I STRONGLY suggest that you NOT do it! Obviously the MSF
understands the dynamics involved. (That they permit it at all remains a mystery to me.)

              Is NOT Playing 'Follow The Leader'

                                      By James R. Davis

I have heard it argued by some who prefer not to ride in groups that group riding is no more
than playing 'follow the leader'. And since most of us that ride big bikes are far from being
simply followers, group riding is for 'the other guys'.

Well, I have no problem with people preferring to ride solo. But if the concept of group riding is
generally thought to be simply playing 'follow the leader', I'd like to correct that impression

When you join a group ride you do agree to be led by a lead bike and to be sheparded by a
drag bike. You agree that you will station-keep (maintain proper spacing and a staggered
formation). And you agree that you will adopt the 'prime directive' (never hit the bike in front of

Sounds like 'follow the leader' to me, too. But there is more. You, for example, agree to follow
the lead bike UNLESS IT IS INTO DANGER. You agree to rely solely on yourself to
determine that a lane change is safe for you to perform. You agree, in other words, to be
responsible for your own safety. This is what is meant by the often heard admonition to 'ride
your own ride!'

In other words, riding in a group is more than being a passive component. It involves being an
ACTIVE participant.

Lest you think this is a trivial 'nit pick' and that despite the above you are nevertheless still just
following the leader, let me describe a few situations that might change your mind.

Yesterday a group of 7 people on 5 bikes went out for a short (150 mile) ride together. One of
the people was a newbie to the group and to group riding. We explained what our concept of
group riding entails, and he had received a copy of our group riding guidelines document the
week before. Because there was a new rider in the group we started out very conservatively.

That is, our lead bike decided to place the new person in the slot immediately in front of me
(riding drag) and when we got to a freeway he kept the group in the right-most lane. This was
done to give me an opportunity to gauge the skills of the new rider before we increased our
speed and moved left.

What I observed was that this person had fine control of his bike, but he was clearly anxious
about being in the right lane (as was I.) There was rather a lot of merging traffic before we got
out of town.

Someone in the group who was equally anxious said on the CB: "Hey, Harry, I have it on
good authority that there are 2 more lanes on this freeway." Harry (our lead bike) responded
by asking me to secure a lane to the left. I did so and the group moved to the left.

So? So one of the 'followers' changed the behaviour of the group! He took an active role and
asked, in his own fashion, for the group to move out of the slow lane.

[Had the newbie been having any trouble with highway speed or with control of his bike in any
other way I would have vetoed the lane change and asked for an exit lane instead. The drag
bike has a lot of discretion in our groups.] Taking an active role is expected of our riders! And
not just to change some group behaviour to accommodate a personal desire. Each rider in
our group is expected to look out for the interests of the other riders as well.

Another example from yesterday. Elaine and I separated from the rest of the group as the ride
came to an end. We rode our two bikes together through some unfamiliar back country roads
that had essentially no traffic on them. We travelled at speeds of from 60 to 70 MPH most of
the time, so long as conditions were favourable.

Elaine has led groups for in excess of 50,000 miles over the past 8 years and is very good at
it. When we approach unfamiliar curves she does not push the envelope, especially when
there are others in the group besides just the two of us. It is not unusual, however, for her to
take a marked curve at from 10 to 20 MPH above posted advisory speed limits. (If a sign says
that the speed of a curve is 45 MPH, Elaine and I will usually take it about 60 MPH.)

Last night we were travelling at about 70 MPH when I noticed that we were about to enter a
curve that was posted at 20MPH!!! Elaine had looked down at her instrument panel and had
not noticed the sign at all. There is no way in the world that Elaine would try to take that curve
at 70 MPH. So, I announced that 'this one is 20!' on the CB and she hit her binders and
brought her bike down to about 30 MPH before she entered the curve. I hasten to add that the
curve was not visible at all before I made my announcement, at least to me. Elaine had seen
the first set of left-pointing arrows indicating that she was approaching a curve, but had no
idea that it was such a slow one. We both made it through the curve without incident.

What's the message here? I took an ACTIVE role and warned her about the speed of the
curve ahead. In other words, all riders in a group are expected to look out for everybody else.
Elaine may have been the lead bike at the time, but if I had simply been a passive rider
'following the leader', both of us would have ended up on the side of the road waiting for a life-
flight helicopter, or worse.

Being in a group provides everyone with many extra pairs of eyes, extra minds to deal with
situations others are not prepared to deal with, help in the event of problems, and a
community of informed judgment makers. To think that any of the group would fail to be active
when the need arose is out of the question. To think that anyone in our group of riding friends
would have failed to warn Elaine about the speed of the curve ahead is simply nuts. None of
use will follow a lead bike into danger - but more importantly, none of us would allow a lead
bike to enter danger without trying to prevent it. ACTIVE roles for all!.

      Riding out from under them could be a big
                                    By James R. Davis

You are out in the country and an electrical storm blows in. There is no civilization (read:
shelter) for a hundred miles. Should you ride out the storm? If not, what should you do?

No doubt you have heard that because your tires are made of rubber, and because rubber is
not a good electrical conductor, so long as you keep your feet on the pegs lightning will not hit
you since it cannot find a path to ground through you and the bike. WRONG!!!

Though rubber is a pretty good insulator at the normal voltage levels we mere humans deal
with, it is not very effective against the voltage in a lightning bolt.

On the other hand, you may also have heard that if a lightning bolt hits a car the occupants
are safe because the car is riding on rubber tires, etc. Actually, this is almost true! So long as
the occupants stay away from anything metal they will more than likely survive a lightning hit
without any injury whatever.

What protects occupants of a cage are not their rubber tires, but the fact that they are
enclosed in a metal container. If a lightning bolt hits the surface of the car it spreads around
the occupants, NOT THROUGH THEM, and goes to ground.

A lightning bolt that hits you or your motorcycle is a different matter entirely.

Let me give you an idea of magnitudes we are dealing with here. The master fuse on your
bike handles about 30 amps before it blows. An average lightning bolt produces a current of
about 20,000 amps. Even 30 amps can easily kill you because it disrupts your heart's
electrical system and the heart then simply stops working. Your heart doesn't stand a chance
against a lightning bolt.

Anyway, if you are out in the open on your bike when lightning flashes begin, and if you can
hear the thunder caused by those flashes in less than three seconds from when you see the
flash, it's time to stop your bike and get off it.

  Immediately find low ground, but NOT under a single or small group of trees.
  Squat on the ground with your legs together, head lower than back, but NOT
  touching the ground. Do NOT lie on the ground.
  LET YOUR CLOTHES GET WET!!! (In this way, if you are hit the majority of the
  electricity will follow the moisture of your wet clothes around your body.)
  Do not get up until thunder following a lightning flash is AT LEAST five seconds
  after the flash.
Incidentally, lightning can, and DOES, hit the same place twice - frequently.

If there are more than 5 seconds between the lightning flashes and your hearing that thunder,
head for shelter. This is the only time trying to ride out from under an electrical storm makes
any sense.

Best shelter, of course, is a hard covered surface connected to ground with metal. Get under
it and wait out the storm.

    Just because they're standing doesn't mean
                  they aren't hurt
                             By Clem Colman & Nick Marks

You've just come round the bend and seen your riding partner take a serious slide, tumble or
even impact. However, before you are able to stop your bike your friend is back on their feet
and you breathe a sigh of relief.

There are a number of unobvious, but important things to remember in this situation.

  The casualty's body will be pumped full of adrenaline. It is quite possible that
  without this adrenaline they would not even be able to move. However, at the time

  their condition will be deceptive, as they will appear remarkably alert, strong, and
  Injuries are not always apparent. The casualty could be conscious and coherent, but
  still suffering from a number of dangerous and life threatening injuries such as
  spinal damage, internal bleeding or even concussion.
  The casualty will be confused, and will not be able to make clear decisions.
Therefore, I would recommend the following for all but the most trivial of falls:

  Immobilize the casualty as quickly as possible to prevent aggravation of any spinal
  injury. If possible place some sort of support collar around the riders neck, and if
  they are still wearing their helmet do not remove it and do not let the casualty
  remove it.
  Send for an ambulance as quickly as possible, despite whatever pleas the casualty
  may make to the contrary. Do not call friends, relations etc to give them a ride. An
  ambulance will provide the safest ride to hospital, particularly if there is any
  undetected spinal damage.
Dealing with a conscious patient is far more difficult than an unconscious one. If possible it is
probably best to have a person that the casualty trusts on hand to help strengthen your

The casualty will most probably be worried about the state of their motorcycle. Remember
that they are confused, and not thinking clearly. If manpower allows it, arrange for the bike to
be stood up and taken care of as best as possible. When the casualty asks you about their
motorcycle, give them an honest answer. The reason is simple, if they think you are lying they
will want to see it themselves.

Assure the casualty that their motorcycle will be alright, and if possible ask them were they
would like it taken. It is best to promise the casualty that you will get the bike to where they
ask, even if you have no idea how this is going to be achieved. Your most important duty is to
keep the casualty as still as possible until trained help arrives.

The reason I have written these things, is that at the time it may seem unnecessary to take
these steps, but please remember that the casualty may be seriously injured, despite their
ability to smile and joke about the fall. Furthermore, due to the adrenaline rush, they will
probably feel quite well, and try to argue over the above recommended course of treatment.

All of these comments are based on a real life experience that I recently had, where the
seemingly healthy casualty was in fact suffering from massive soft tissue damage, possible
spinal damage and mild concussion as a result of a nearly fatal fall.

I was thinking clearly enough to force him to go to hospital to be checked out, but not clearly
enough to realize that just because he was walking didn't actually mean he was more or less
unhurt. As a result of this, I made him sit down, but didn't immobilize him as I should have,
and arranged a ride in a private car as opposed to an ambulance.

I am happy to say that the possible spinal damage seems to have never occurred, and that
my friend and riding companion seems to be recovering well from his very near brush with

Although my friend's bike was written off, I still call things like this free lessons, and thought
that others out there might like to learn this one the easy way.

Clem Colman,
Canberra, Australia.

The following addition to this Tip was provided by Nick Marks, an EMT and volunteer fire-
fighter who has worked many motorcycle accident scenes. - JRD

I have a couple of things to add to this one, based on my EMT training as well as my
experiences doing on-track medical at motorcycle races (we deal with crashed riders mostly).
The part about not removing the helmet is critical unless you have had special training on how
to do it properly (and it requires two people). But one thing to be prepared for is that riders
that have crashed and gone under (unconscious) often are very claustrophobic when they
wake up, and want their helmet removed NOW, especially if it is a full-face (they will fight you
to get it off). Do not let them convince you to remove it unless there is a medical need to
remove it. Keep in mind that anyone that has gone unconscious or has hit their head MUST
be assumed to have cervical spine damage until proven otherwise at a hospital.

If a crashee is confused, this could be due to an altered mental status, possible due to the
early signs of shock. I have actually seen an automobile crash where a driver was up and
looking fine. We were able to convince him to go with us in the ambulance (we gave him the
option of going with us or going with the deputy to jail). We were later told that he had
massive internal bleeding and would have been dead within an hour had he not been taken to
the hospital when he was.

The point is to look at what we call Mechanism of Injury. If a rider lowsides and does not flip,
well and good. But if they high side, flip, or hit something, then they need to be seen by a
doctor. Only an x-ray can really rule out spinal damage. The best way to get them to a doctor
is by ambulance (not by you), because an ambulance has oxygen and other life saving
equipment on board.

Nick Marks

                  Bigger may not be better at all
                                    By James R. Davis

There has been a trend over the past few years of ever bigger windscreens showing up on
our bikes. You cannot attend a major rally without seeing at least one vendor of these 'super-
duper', 'larger-than-life', 'aerodynamic', 'custom-made', 'co-rider-friendly' pieces of plastic.

I like having a good windscreen in front of me. I like cutting most of the wind that buffets me
during a long ride. I like having the bugs hit something other than my teeth. I like rain drops
splashing on the plastic and then sliding up and over my head.

But I do not like their cost in terms of gasoline mileage or top-end speed. I do not like banging
my forehead (excuse me - my helmet) on the windscreen when I mount my motorcycle. I
dislike greatly not being able to look OVER my windscreen when things around me get dicey
or visibility gets poor. I dislike reports of melted dashboards from leaving a bike in the sun at
exactly the wrong time of day and pointed at the wrong angle relative to the sun.

As to 'aerodynamic', says who? Wind resistance is not just the angle at which you hit the
wind. There is as much resistance caused by the vacuum behind your windscreen than from

the wind hitting it in the front. The greater the 'apparent' surface area your windscreen has
(the height times the width as seen from the front), the greater its resistance is, in one form or
the other.

As to 'co-rider-friendly', what about 'rider-friendly' first? Have you ever driven at night and had
difficulty seeing thru your windscreen because your dash lights are all being reflected back at
you from your new 'super-duper-swept-back' windscreen MIRROR? And should you get into
an accident and find your head forced down by that windscreen that is levered over your
head, what part of that new windscreen do you think your co-rider is going to hit first? (Notice
how close the edge now is to her eyes?)

Like having that windscreen sweep around your grips? I guess you never did like the
convenience of hanging your helmet using its D-ring and the peg that was designed to fit it?

Well, the larger screens look good. They are just right for some people. But do yourself a
favour and take a ride behind one of them for a few hundred miles, day and night, before you
decide to give up what you know works for one of these 'custom-made' monsters. The old one
you already have just might be better than you think.

                                     By James R. Davis

Those of us that tour with our motorcycles have learned something about the roads across
the country that might not be obvious - they are all different.

I mean that they are made of different materials, the quality of their surfaces varies
considerably, they might be pristine and immaculate in one place only to become pot-holed
war zones a few miles farther along.

The curves in one section of a road can be well lighted, perfectly banked, and of consistent
radius while only a mile away a similar curve can be dark, decreasing radius, covered with 'tar
snakes', and have roadside weeds higher than your head.


It seems to me that what we are seeing is simply a manifestation of the very real differences
in County and State wealth and quality of their various maintenance personnel.

The Interstates are consistent in quality and design. The various State and County roads are

So, the message here should be obvious: As you cross a County line be sure to be ready for
changes in road surface and quality. Slow down and experience the workmanship and care of
the roads in a new County for a few miles before believing that you can take that next blind
curve as fast as you are used to driving.

                    Determining speed potential
                                    By James R. Davis

While reading my owner's manual a few days ago I came across a chart that listed my gear
ratios in a section entitled: Power Transmission. It showed:

Primary reduction 1.708
Secondary reduction 0.973
Gear ratio, 1st 2.571
2nd 1.667
3rd 1.250
4th 1.000
OD 0.800
Final reduction 2.833

I also found that the engine in my bike redlines at 7,500 RPM and that my rear tire is a
'150/90-15 74H'

From that information I was able to construct a pretty healthy understanding of shift points,
speed ranges and maximum theoretical speed of the motorcycle. This article is designed to
help you do the same with your own bike.

First, let's look at the power transmission. The primary and secondary reduction ratios mean
that the revolutions made by your engine have been reduced by two sets of gears BEFORE it
gets to your transmission. You must divide the engine's RPM by the product of these two
ratios in order to determine how fast the input shaft to your transmission is turning.

For example, since the product you get by multiplying 1.708 and .973 is approximately 1.662,
if the engine is making 2,000 RPM, then the input to your transmission is turning at the rate of
1,203 RPM (2,000/1.662).

The output of your transmission is then determined by what gear you are in. For example, if
you are in 3rd gear, the output from your transmission is approximately 963 RPM

And that output is reduced one more time by a set of gears in your rear-end so that the rear
wheel will be spinning at the rate of approximately 340 RPM (963/2.833).

So? How fast your bike is moving at any particular engine RPM, I imagine, is what you are
really interested in. That, of course, is a function of the radius of the rear wheel.

You could, if your bags were not in the way, simply measure from the centre of your rear hub
HORIZONTALLY to the tread to find the radius of the tire. (Note, this gets you a number close
to the radius you would obtain from the information printed on the tire - and is accurate
enough so long as you run with normal air pressure. If you run with low tire pressure then
your tire will actually not be riding on the tread centre-line at all but somewhere farther out. In
other words, because of cambered design, the tread centre-line will be sloughing against the
pavement while the tire along the outside edges of the contact patch (which are closer to the
hub of the wheel) will determine distance travelled.)

But from the information in your owner's manual you already have most of the information you
need and, given normal air pressure in your tires, will be accurate enough to calculate speed
from. The '-15' means that the rim the tire fits on has a diameter of 15 inches. The '150'

means that the tire is 150 mm wide and the '90' means that its height is 90% of its width,
giving a height from tread to bead of 135 mm. 135 mm is 5.31 inches. Thus, the radius of the
rear tire is 5.31 inches plus 1/2 the wheel diameter of 15 inches, for a total of 12.81 inches.

From high school you remember a formula that determines circumference based on radius.
You decide that you would rather ride a motorcycle instead of multiplying PI times twice the
radius and converting the results from minutes and inches to miles and hours at this point in
your life. So, I present you with a straight forward formula for converting engine RPM, final
gear ratio and tire radius into MPH:
                   MPH = (Engine RPM * Radius) / (Final Gear Ratio * 168)
The 'Final Gear Ratio' is merely the product of all gear ratios involved. Thus, in our example it
is 5.885 (1.708 * .973 * 1.25 * 2.833).

We can now use the formula:

MPH = (2,000 * 12.81) / (5.885 * 168)
MPH = 25,620 / 988.68
MPH = 25.91

At 2,000 RPM, in 3rd gear, your bike is moving at almost 26 MPH. It is just as easy to
determine that if the engine were redlined (7,500 RPM) in 3rd gear your speed would be
slightly more than 91 MPH.

The reason a tachometer is marked with a red band near its top end is that running your
engine at those speeds yields a power falloff and may do damage to it! Further, your power
curve tends to fall off as the engine RPM approaches redline. [You can damage your engine
running it at lower than it’s redline - the redline is NOT a damage/no-damage point.] So, you
are well advised to keep your engine RPM at less than about 80% of redline. In the case of
my bike, that means at less than about 6,000 RPM.

Similarly, running an engine too slowly lugs it down because the power curve is not adequate
there. Since most motorcycles idle at about 1,000 RPM, which is just barely sufficient to keep
it from stalling, you know that you want to keep your motor running faster than that in order to
accelerate. My preference follows the 80/20 rule. That is, just as I want to keep my engine
running less than 80% of redline, I want to keep it running faster than 20% of redline while
moving. That means that I want my engine running between 1,500 and 6,000 RPM except
when out of gear.

Furthermore, it is my preference to try to keep the engine at 50% of my conservative redline.
That is, at 50% of 6,000 RPM. At 3,000 RPM my engine should last forever. And, in the case
of running in Overdrive, it is a high enough RPM that the power curve is sufficient to

I leave it to the reader to take the formula I provided in order to determine the highest speed
their bikes are theoretically capable of attaining. I might add, however, that the higher the
gear, the less likely you are able to reach redline with your engine. But you should be able to
reach my conservative redline (80%).

           Dumping a bike to 'avoid an accident'
                   MAXIMIZES PAIN

                                      By James R. Davis

Sometimes you just have to spell it out.

We have talked about how to get the fastest stopping speeds from your motorcycle. During
those discussions it has been pointed out that though the coefficient of friction (Cf) between
rubber and asphalt is about 1.0, your tires will usually not lose traction until they are
confronted with 1.1 g of force (sometimes as high as 2.0 g.) In other words, you can pretty
much assume that your tires have an effective CF of 1.1 until they start to slide.

It has been pointed out that a tire's sliding friction is only about 80% of its rolling friction. The
higher the Cf, the faster we are able to stop.

Thus, in order to stop fastest we must apply enough force via our brakes that they are as
close as possible to locking the wheel without actually doing so.

In other discussions, particularly those about 'dumping a bike in order to avoid an accident'
(world's greatest oxymoron), it has been pointed out that most rational people would prefer to
stay on their brakes all the way to impact in order to minimize the speed of the impact rather
than hit the ground at a higher rate of speed (and then, with high probability, continue on into
the impact anyway.)

To those that still believe it makes sense to dump a bike in order to 'avoid an accident', I
thought I would toss a bit of information out into the ether that you might at least find to be a
curious set of coincidences:

  Just like your motorcycle tire, the Coefficient of friction (Cf) between a skidding
  NAKED body and asphalt is approximately 1.1 (at least until bone is reached.)
  Just like the sliding friction of your tires, a tumbling naked body has a Cf of
  approximately .80.
  Similar to the Cf of a motorcycle sliding on its side (which has a Cf of between .55
  and .70 on dry asphalt), a human body wearing clothes (jeans, leather, etc.), has a Cf
  that averages approximately .66.
(Any Cf below 1.1 means that stopping will not be as fast as the motorcycle if you can keep it
close to a brake lock (i.e., close to 100% efficient braking.))

So, if you fall off your bike you will start to skid on the asphalt with a Cf of about .66.
Depending on your speed, you will probably quickly begin tumbling and, as your clothes begin
to wear out, because you’re Cf begins to grow to about .80 you will slow at a faster rate.
When tumbling has stopped, assuming the clothing is essentially gone at the points of impact
with the road, your Cf will have risen to about 1.1 and you will then be stopping as fast as
your motorcycle is capable. Soon thereafter bone is reached and your Cf decreases and you
begin to slow down at a slower rate.

(Probably a good idea to stay in the saddle and use your brakes efficiently, huh?)

The above discussion relates various changes to Cf that a person riding asphalt instead of his
bike will encounter. You noticed, I'm sure, that for only a part of the time that this person is
riding asphalt will he be slowing as quickly as he could have had he stayed with the bike and
used his brakes (without locking his wheels.) You should conclude from that that following the
slide, if he still impacts what he was trying to avoid, he will hit it going faster than if he had
stayed with the bike.

If the fall and slide didn't injury him at all (from the previous description you know better), the
subsequent impact alone will hurt him more than had he stayed with the bike - he will be
moving faster.

Furthermore, the dumped motorcycle, if it continues on to the point of impact, will be travelling
at a faster speed than it would be if it had been braked all the way instead of being dumped.

Is there anybody in the audience who still believes it makes sense to dump a bike in order to
'avoid an accident'?

            "I dumped my bike to avoid a crash"
                                     By James R. Davis

I had to take a plane from Houston to New York City today and while I was waiting for my
flight to depart I struck up a conversation with another passenger who happened to be
interested in motorcycles.

The man confessed to having had three motorcycle accidents in the past - though "I almost
avoided one of them", he said. "I dumped my bike in what turned out to be an unsuccessful
attempt to avoid hitting a truck."

That sounded like three crashes to me, no matter how you slice it.

With the sole exception of electing to do a 'lowside' rather than allow a 'high side' to occur, I
can think of no good reason to cause an accident in order to avoid an accident. I mean, if a
CRASH is virtually certain to happen then it seems to me that one should do everything
possible to minimize the severity of that event rather than abandoning the effort and settling
for a different form of crash.

This man told me that he and his wife hit the ground at 45 MPH about 1 second before they
'T-boned' the pickup truck that had stopped in the intersection ahead of them. He was
convinced that the road rash and a couple of 'minor broken bones' they got from the impact
with the street was far less than what would have happened to them had they hit the truck
first. (I'm convinced the man didn't have a clue.)

That makes no sense to me at all! If they had been able to stay on their brakes for a full
second before impact they could have, at a stopping rate of 1 g (32.1 ft/sec^2), scrubbed off
almost 22 MPH before the impact. In other words, they would have hit the car moving at a
speed of about 23 MPH instead of hitting the street at 45 MPH.

When I asked him HOW he dumped his bike his answer sounded a little less than likely: "I
stood on the rear brake and slid the tire out from under me." While I don't doubt that this is
exactly what happened, I do doubt that it was deliberate - and, more to the point, I think that
action was as far from reasonable as it was less than deliberate.

One more time: Locking your rear wheel is an invitation to high side your bike - it NEVER
makes sense to aggressively use your rear brake - NEVER!

Dumping a bike is a CRASH. Staying on your brakes until you actually impact something will
reduce your speed at the point of impact far more than will sliding on the pavement before
you hit an object - and there is no pain or damage done to you or the bike until you do impact.

Finally, it should be clear that hitting something at 23 MPH is more survivable than hitting the
asphalt at 45 MPH before you then hit that something at a speed still greater than 23 MPH.

       Sometimes this is the fastest way to stop
                                     By James R. Davis

The coefficient of friction is greatest for our tires at the point just prior to a slide, and it
decreases by 20-30% as soon as you start sliding. This, in part, because a sliding tire
generates so much heat at the contact patch that the rubber there begins to liquefy. [Actually,
dynamic coefficient of friction is always lower than static coefficient of friction.] (Curiously, it
turns out that asphalt actually melts as well and your skidding tire cuts a trench in it as a

Clearly, then, in order to make the fastest stop possible you want to use enough brake to
'almost' make the tires slide. You do not want to ever 'lock' your brakes, then, right?

Well, this is true in almost all cases. True enough, at least, that it is held to be gospel in
almost every discussion of stopping a motorcycle that I have ever participated in. But there
are times when you can stop faster if you lock those brakes.

Before getting into the details about this let me make a few points that should be obvious:

  If you lock your front brake you lose ALL steering control.
  If you lock your rear brake you lose stability for about 80% of your motorcycle.
  If you can stop fast enough without locking your brakes you should do so.
  The odds of dumping your bike are many times greater if you lock your brakes
  (either of them) than if you do not.
  Stopping performance is a function of your brakes, your tires, and the ROAD
So, when does locking one or more of your brakes make sense? ONLY if you must stop as
quickly as possible to avoid a major accident and the road surface is not firm! That is, in order
to avoid serious injury when riding on snow, loose gravel, or sand! Further, ONLY IF YOU
ARE driving in a straight line!!!

It should be obvious that because the odds of dumping your bike goes way up whenever you
lock a wheel, you would almost always want to use a more gentle touch on your brakes -
indeed, in any situation that does not call for fastest stop possible.

When you stop the rotation of your tire in a soft surface environment (like snow, sand or loose
gravel), that wheel will not merely ride over the surface. It will plough through the material and
in so doing it creates a 'dam' of the material in front of itself. This 'dam' grows and provides
rather a substantial, and growing, amount of resistance that is a greater (by far) stopping
force than whatever traction your rotating tire could provide by rolling over the material.

Since you will lose all steering control if your front brake is locked, you must straighten the
bike to vertical before you grab your binders or you will dump the bike! If you are able to allow

your rear tire to continue to spin while doing this then you should as this will provide
gyroscopic stability for the majority of your bike until you are moving very slowly.

Even in a situation in which failing to stop soonest puts your life in jeopardy, locking BOTH
brakes is NOT the way to go, in my opinion. (I don't think it EVER makes sense to
aggressively use your rear brake.)

Mind you, locking your front brake to stop as quickly as possible is ONLY TRUE if the road
surface is loose!!! Any normal road surface condition requires that you NOT lock either of your
brakes in order to stop quickest.

    Your radio may be one distraction too many
                                      By James R. Davis

When everything is going right, riding a motorcycle is effortless and completely enjoyable. By
'right' I mean that the weather is perfect, traffic is light, the bike is familiar and well maintained,
and you are rested and healthy. Given these conditions you have the potential to focus
entirely on those things that demand your attention - or to be lulled into believing that you can
afford to be distracted for a few minutes, and die in a heartbeat.

On the other hand, there is never a better time to see the fields you are driving past, or smell
the aroma of freshly cut grass, or to enjoy the sight of a couple of hot air balloons in the
distance than when everything is going right. Is this not a safety conflict however?

Permit me to suggest that 'paying attention' is not only not the same as 'being alert', it is
almost the opposite - these are mutually exclusive concepts except as regards to whatever
you happen to be focused on. Indeed, letting your attention 'wander' is very much the same
as being 'alert.' There is a lesson to be learned with the distinction.

Assume that you have a limit to how much your mind can pay attention to at any single
moment. You can be aware, for example, of traffic conditions all around you, of how fast you
are going, of the sounds your engine is making, of the approximate time of day it is, of the
words to the music you hear in your headset from your radio or tape or CD, of the surrounding
countryside unfolding around you as you drive by, of the temperature, of how long it's been
since you last ate or made a potty stop, and of the general location and status of the
motorcycles both in front and behind you. It would seem to most people that there is no limit
to how many different things you can be aware of at any one time. This, because you scan
these things quickly and PAY very little attention to them, so long as each appears to you to
conform to what you expect of them.

The ability to notice that something is wrong is called being 'alert.' When, during your attention
scanning effort (i.e., while your attention is wandering) something happens out of the ordinary,
is unexpected, then a wondrous thing happens within your mind - you FOCUS on the
discrepancy. You PAY substantially more of your attention to it. And now you find that your
ability to be attentive to many things at once has reached a limit!

For example, if you are driving down a freeway at 70 MPH and happen to notice that a truck
some distance ahead of you has just blown a tire, then you will be so completely focused on

that truck and what is around it as well as your reactions to that event that you will almost
certainly no longer be able to notice the scenery to the side of the road, nor are those hot air
balloons able to get your attention any longer, even if one of them were to fall out of the sky.

What we have discovered is that not only is there a limit to our ability to pay attention, but
when our attention is focused our ability to be alert to other things is diminished. THAT is

When we have to focus on some aspect of our riding we are forced to diminish the wandering
of our attention. For example, if it is raining and after dark we tend to narrow our visual focus
and concentrate on what we see ahead of us. At this time we do not have the ability to let our
attention wander very far for we have very little attention left. Indeed, if we then discover that
we are lost the very first thing we will all do is to slow down so that speed is no longer
consuming any of our attention - we have already exceeded our limits.

This is no time for us to have a radio on or be listening to a tape!

That is the message here:

in any situation in which you must focus your attention you must at the same time reduce as
many distractions as possible.

  If you are riding an unfamiliar bike, make sure the radio/tape is off and that you do
  not test any other limits (such as high speed or steep lean angles.)
  If traffic suddenly increases or becomes 'weird', hit your mute button and reduce
  speed if possible.
  If the weather suddenly turns bad, hit your mute button and reduce speed if
Clearly your radio can become one distraction too many.

                                   Tire pressure
                                    By James R. Davis

In the article titled Hydroplaning Issues the phenomena was discussed in some detail. It
seems to me that a tip is in order that tells how one might avoid experiencing hydroplaning.

If you know that you are going to be riding in the rain you might consider adding 3 to 5 psi of
pressure in your tires. Note, I am not suggesting that you inflate them in excess of the
maximum pressure specified on the tire sidewalls.

The reasoning behind this suggestion is simple:

  Increasing the tire pressure makes its contact patch smaller. In other words, it
  increases the weight per square inch of the contact patch so that it takes more
  'uplift' by water to cause hydroplaning.
  Just as increasing pressure makes the contact patch smaller, it also tends to spread

  out the tread grooves which, in turn, makes it easier to slough water away from the
  contact patch.
Perhaps it is obvious, but to hydroplane you need a certain minimum depth of water under
your tires and, thus, to the extent that you can reduce that depth you can reduce the odds of
hydroplaning. How might you do that? By driving closer to the centre of the lane than you
normally do. Why? Because normal vehicle traffic actually cuts a trough into the pavement
where the wheels ride. Those troughs are essentially where we motorcyclists normally track
our rides. Obviously water depths are higher in these troughs.

                  Determined by road conditions
                                     By James R. Davis

A message was posted in a motorcycle conference recently which argued that we should
abandon the '2-second' rule (distance between bikes in the same track - distance between
each bike in the group being half that) and possibly double it to increase safety.

Yes, that will certainly increase safety, generally, but it results in a group that is spread so far
out that it introduces new safety problems - like it encourages cagers to dart into the gaps
between bikes.

But there are times where the '2-second' rule makes no sense whatever. To begin with, it
must be realized that there is a set of implicit assumptions that goes along with adopting that
rule. Most important of these is that the skills/experience level of the individual riders is about
at par with each other. Additionally, but often overlooked, is the absolute assumption that you
are riding on dry level pavement!

It has been well documented that it takes the average person almost 1 full second to
recognize and then to react to an UNEXPECTED threat. (About 1/2 second if the threat is
anticipated.) The '2-second Rule', in other words, provides 1 full second of distance between
bikes in order to provide sufficient time for following bikers to recognize and react to
unexpected threats.

If all bikers in the group have roughly equivalent skills, then no matter what the driver ahead
of you does - so long as he REMAINS IN CONTROL OF HIS BIKE - you should be able to do
the same without running into him. This is true whether you are on wet or dry pavement and
regardless of any pavement slope you are on.

However, the bike ahead of you is not the only thing that you might have to avoid hitting.
Going down hill or riding on wet surfaces dramatically increases your stopping distance and is
important should you have to avoid an obstacle in the road (pothole or vehicle), or the bike
ahead of you that is no longer in control (highsided, for example.)

Since your tire traction is cut by as much as TWO-THIRDS on wet roads, clearly you should
increase following distances substantially over what is safe on dry level roads. Similarly, sand
or gravel covered roadways should cause you to stretch out those following distances.

Since gravity either aids or detracts from the ability of your brakes to stop your bike based on
whether you are on an incline or a decline, following distances must be significantly increased
to maintain the safety margin if you are riding downhill - and the steeper the slope, the wider
those distances should be.

When riding in a curve most motorcyclists choose their own line and certainly should not be
'required' to stay in their track (though they should stay in their lane, of course.) It follows,
then, that distances between bikes should be nearly doubled when riding twisties.

If the bike ahead of you does not remain in control, then you need to be able to avoid hitting
him without doing whatever got him into trouble (such as hitting something in the road.) In low
traction environments (or going downhill) you need more time and distance.

The '2-second rule' means that in staggered formation there is a ONE second spacing
between each bike, thus a TWO second spacing between bikes in the same track.

My intention in this discussion is to demonstrate that if you use this kind of spacing then:

  IF your reaction time to an unexpected threat is 1 second or less (studies have
  shown this to be a reasonable expectation), and
  IF your motorcycle skills are as good or better than those of the next driver ahead of
Then whatever the motorcyclist ahead of you does you should be able to do without running
into him. (Including a panic stop, or a turn across your path, or both.)

All else being equal, the "2-second rule" should constitute your fundamental safety margin
while riding in a group if you use it as a minimum spacing distance.

This does not mean it is impossible to hit the guy ahead of you if he loses control of his bike!
If he T-bones a vehicle that enters an intersection, you will almost certainly run into them. If
he locks his rear brake and then highsides, you might run into him.

But running into the bike ahead is not your only threat. If that bike successfully dodges an
obstacle in the street, you could hit it rather than him. If a deer or another vehicle happens to
run into the gap between you and the bike ahead, you need stopping/swerving ability.

Since wet surfaces or driving down a hill decreases stopping ability, it makes sense to widen
the gaps between bikes when you have to deal with them. Not so that you can avoid hitting
the bike ahead of you if he remains in control of his bike, but because he might not, or other
panic stop conditions might arise.

                                     By James R. Davis

Keeping your tires in good shape includes constant attention to them, maintaining proper
inflation at all times, and a little luck in avoiding street hazards. But dry rot is a problem some
of our tires seem to experience, particularly if our motorcycles are not ridden year round.

There are a few simple things that you can do to minimize dry rot:

  Do not store your motorcycle near electrical appliances. Ozone is generated around
  electrical appliances and is primarily responsible for the cracks in your tire rubber.
  Do not use anything like Armour All on your tires. These products make the rubber
  look nice and clean and bright black, but they also rob the rubber of the chemicals
  they were manufactured with which are designed to minimize the effect of ozone.
  Do not park your bike with the tires sitting on oil spots. The oil will deteriorate the
  tire rubber over time.

                  Does yours need a check-up?
                                   By Elaine Anthony

Do you carry a First Aid kit on your bike? If so, when is the last time you took a look inside?
Many riders probably carry kits which were purchased to meet a perceived safety requirement
(or to qualify for a safe-riding badge), but if you don't know what your First Aid kit contains,
you may be unpleasantly surprised if you ever need to use it.

What passes for a First Aid kit from sources such as discount stores and auto supply shops
(and sometimes given away as Poker Run prizes) may be woefully short of what is needed for
our sport. In case of a motorcycle accident, I hate to say it, but band-aids ain't going to help
much, folks.

I was lucky enough to take a First Aid course a couple of years ago with some of the best
EMS people I've ever met, at the home of our Assistant CDs for GWTA Chapter "I", Kathy and
John Holly. The team who taught the course had handled serious accidents on a daily basis --
in fact, the woman in charge told me it was rare for them to be on the job for a shift without
having to perform CPR at least once -- and they had come upon a number of accidents
involving motorcyclists. They stressed several things that have really stuck in my mind.

   Your First Aid kit needs to have a really good pair of scissors in it, to cut away
   (thick) clothing. If you can't see the injured area, it's hard to figure out what is best
   to do. You may find it worthwhile to invest in a heavy-duty shears which can handle
   thick material.
   Every rider should carry a pair (several pairs is best) of latex gloves to be used in
   case of an accident where blood is spilled. Having them on your bike may allow
   persons who want to assist you to make that decision without fear of contamination,
   as well as being available to you to help someone else.
   A good First Aid kit should have a number of triangle bandages in it, which can be
   easily made from inexpensive muslin purchased at any fabric or discount
   department store -- I got mine for about .99 a yard. These pieces should be large
   enough that you can make a sling from them, or fold them to use as a pressure-point
   type bandage, or put them on a head injury to hold other bandages into place. Mine
   are about 30" by 30" and are cut on the diagonal. These are just unbleached muslin,
   but they are clean and strong and BIG. I've NEVER seen a commercially purchased
   First Aid kit with these supplied. If you need more than one (for example, after
   making a sling for an arm, it's a good idea to immobilize that arm by binding it to the
   upper body), you can tie several of these together if the patient is a large individual.
   Carrying a minimum of three triangle bandages would be a good idea.
   I've also seen very few kits that have anything like enough sterile gauze pads. If you

   need to put pressure on a bleeding wound, you'll go through these items fast and
   will want enough to add another clean one often, directly to the wound.
   It is helpful to have a bottle of filtered or distilled water in your kit. This can be useful
   in case of broken bones, eye injuries, cleaning out other minor injuries, and for
   dehydration. If you've got a compound fracture, it is helpful to put a muslin bandage
   over a damp gauze bandage on the end of the exposed bone, to keep it from drying
   out. Many minor problems can be dealt with initially by washing them with clean
   water, and debris in the eye can often be relieved by this, with nothing else required.
   (Even if the water isn't distilled or filtered, it can still be used if it's of potable
   In the case of very bad head injuries, it's not unusual to have substantial eye
   injuries. Unfortunately, eyes can come out of place on impact. The recommended
   First Aid in this situation is to have a cup (like a clean Styrofoam cup) available to
   contain the damaged and displaced eye, and to strap that cup onto the face with a
   triangle bandage. The medical folks today can do amazing things to put an eye back
   into place, but it's a good idea to bandage both eyes to keep the person from
   panicking (and to slow the 'eye-matching' reflexes, which try to make our eyes work
   together), while touching and reassuring the injured party. Having a clean cup in
   your kit may permit you to do someone an invaluable service by helping to save
   their sight.
   Those who haven't taken a CPR or First Aid class in a while might be interested to
   know that the American Heart Association guidelines on CPR have been changing
   gradually. The last time I took one (about 14 months ago), I found that the procedure
   was not exactly the same as what I'd been taught in my previous courses. But all
   these courses do strongly recommend that a person who is going to administer CPR
   have a barrier available to protect them from the bodily fluids of the injured party.
   This may be a plastic gadget that looks like a kitchen gripper, with a hole in it for a
   breathing tube, or a more sophisticated mask that can keep a rescuer's face and lips
   away from the injured party while he or she breathes for the person who's down.
   These items are inexpensive and are available at medical supply shops, but I've yet
   to see a commercial First Aid kit that comes with one.
   Most simple First Aid kits contain some kind of antiseptic ointment or cream. These
   can be useful for minor sunburns or insect bites, but they should usually NOT be
   used on a serious injury. When the medical folks start working on a wound, they
   don't want to wonder what has already been applied to it. When in doubt, throw it
In case of an accident, the first response these days is to call 911. In most regions of the
country, even in rural areas, emergency assistance can be sent out right away. However, if
you ever become a witness to a bad accident, you'll discover how important it is to have
current information and adequate First Aid gear, even if you can't really do very much at the
scene. It may save a life to know what NOT to do.

When you reach for that First Aid kit, you'll be better prepared if you know what's in it and how
to use it. Take some time to look at what you're carrying on your bike, to see if it's what you
really need.

                                    By James R. Davis

The other night I was discussing tires with a non-motorcyclist friend of mine. He is a bright
attorney who is well schooled in physics and logic. Imagine my surprise when I learned that
not only were a few tire facts not understood by him, but that most of my motorcyclist friends,
whose lives depend in no small part on their knowledge of our sport, have the same blinkers

When I told my lawyer friend that motorcycles can almost always stop more quickly than cars,
I did not get the typical agreement based on the popular misconception that this is true
because cars are heavier than motorcycles. Instead, he challenged that fact based on the
'increasing popularity of ABS system on cars.'

  Stopping distance is not determined by weight! You will recall that Galileo (I
  originally said 'Sir Isaac Newton' in error) crushed the popularly held belief that
  heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones. Falling is an acceleration. Braking is
  simply a negative acceleration.

  ABS was not designed to enable you to stop more quickly. (See Anti-lock Braking
  Systems (ABS).)
As we got on with our discussion of tires he happened to mention that he had just purchased
a set of new tires for his car and that he expected to get about 60,000 miles from them before
they wore out. This seemed to please him very much. I'm afraid I may have caused him to
have second thoughts on the matter as our conversation continued.

I told him that I had a set of 'high mileage' (by motorcycle standards) touring tires on my
motorcycle and that I would be happy to get anything in excess of 20,000 miles from them. He
was amazed to learn that I paid nearly as much for my rear tire alone as he spent for all four
of his car tires, particularly since I would have had to replace them three times before he
replaced his once.

It must have sounded defensive on my part when I told my friend that if the manufacturer of
my motorcycle tires was to announce a new tire with an expected life of 60,000 miles they
would have trouble selling them.

I explained that the reason a motorcycle can stop faster than a car is that its tires provide
better traction than automobile tires. Our traction is better because the rubber compounds our
tires are made of are softer and thus 'stickier'. Beyond their price in dollar terms, better
traction tires cost mileage - they wear out faster than harder tires. [Obviously, stopping is a
function of your brakes. With the assumption that your vehicle was designed with brakes that
are more than sufficient to lock (stop your wheels from turning), regardless of speed, then the
stopping of your vehicle must be limited by available traction, not brakes.]

(It is a curiosity to me that many motorcyclists brag about the mileage their tires provide -
actively seeking to buy higher mileage tires without a thought to relative traction provided. I
suppose that they believe the higher mileage is provided without traction cost - but is it?)

However, given a choice between buying tires that lasted three times as long or those that
allowed faster stopping, it would be a no-brainer for most motorcyclists. If a motorcycle tire
could be made that provided 60,000 miles of life, by virtue of being made of harder rubber
compounds, the manufacturer could not give them away.

Well that concept got the attention of my lawyer friend! Can't you just imagine the thoughts
running thru his head:

"Your honour, my client cannot be held responsible for rear-ending the car in front of him
because, as the skid marks clearly show, he tried his best to avoid the accident. The problem
is not that he was following too closely at all. The problem is that he didn't quite stop in time,
which is obviously the fault of his tires.

Mind you, your honour, that my client spent premium dollars for what he believed were
premium tires. They, after all, were advertised to last 60,000 miles. The tire manufacturer is
clearly at fault for failing to tell my client that these 'premium' tires have less traction than do
lower mileage, less expensive tires."


The problem is that there is no way for a consumer to know what level of traction one tire has
as compared to another. There is no indication on the tire sidewall, for example, that lists its
traction, and there does not appear to be standards available to the consuming public that
facilitates comparisons. It is entirely possible, though unlikely, that a rubber compound can be
developed that provides longer life without sacrificing traction.

But there are other reasons that most motorcyclists should consider before buying a tire with
a long wear life expectancy. For example, about every other tire that I have had to replace
was the result of tire damage rather than normal wear and tear. (three nails in one tire cannot
be safely plugged, severe sidewall cracking along with similar cracking in the tread grooves,
cupping, etc.)

Maybe the discussion above explains why no manufacturer has announced a 60,000 mile
motorcycle tire - yet. I wouldn't buy one if they did.

                                     Than Friction
                                      By James R. Davis

A dictionary definition of traction is "adhesive friction." I suggest that the meaning of
'adhesive' in this definition includes BOTH 'stick' and 'grip' properties of the rubber used in our

While 'stick' is essentially the same as friction, 'grip' is not. Grip is a result of the deformation
of the tire's rubber that allows it to 'surround' irregularities of the road surface. This
surrounding effect provides more surface contact between the rubber and the road, and it
adds the ability to 'push against' those irregularities rather than simply rely on the coefficient
of friction between the surfaces. (Tread provides yet another way to 'surround' irregularities in
the road surface, thus it contributes to traction as well as providing water shedding capability.)

Tire rubber is essentially a set of long rubber molecules that are bonded together very much
like a set of broken rubber bands that are stuck together. It is this bonding together of the
bands which allows the tire to stay intact rather than simply shred into individual rubber
molecules. When these bonds are broken then pieces of the tire are literally left behind (ala
skid marks.)

Heat weakens these bonds and when the tire cools off the bonds reaffirm themselves. For
this reason, drag car drivers usually 'burn in' their tires at the start of a race. That is, they heat
the tires by spinning them against the road surface and then they cool them off by stopping
that spin. The rubber molecules turn out to re-bond in a more orderly pattern than the more or
less random alignment they were in as a result of manufacture. Tires with more aligned
molecules provide more 'stick.'

The deformation of the rubber material which results in 'grip' is the result, in turn, of some
form of loading force. Weight is one such form of force. Slip angle is another. As you increase
loading you are able to more fully 'surround' irregularities in the road surface and that means
increased traction.

Without loading you have no deformation and approach a purely friction model to explain tire
behaviour. Since the coefficient of friction of rubber against concrete is approximately 1.0, yet
most tires will not break away or slide with less than 1.1 Gs (sometimes more than 2.0 Gs),
then it is clear that traction is more than merely friction ('stick'.) It must also include 'grip.'

                                      By James R. Davis

Despite the general impression that ABS equipped vehicles can stop faster than those
without, in general this is not true. ABS is primarily intended to help prevent the loss of control
(caused by locked brakes), not to in some magical way make the brakes more effective at
stopping the vehicle.

The reason ABS is not particularly effective in terms of braking ability on dry surfaces is that it
is generally pretty easy to avoid locking the brakes anyway. So, I suppose, there are those
that will argue that ABS helps you stop faster on slippery surfaces even if not on dry ones.

In fact that is not always true either. There are tests that show improved stopping
performance (for cars and trucks) on WET surfaces, where drivers are more apt to overuse
their brakes to the point of locking them, but there are several other studies that demonstrate
absolutely convincingly that braking distances increase with ABS over non-ABS equipped
vehicles when riding on loose gravel or snow covered surfaces. (This, because gravel and
loose snow piles up and tends to create a 'dam' in front of a locked wheel where a rolling
wheel tends to ride up and over a much smaller 'dam'.)

But 'maintaining control' is a good thing by itself, right? Surely that is good enough reason to
require every vehicle to have ABS equipped brakes, right?


In February of this year (1996) the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced
it had dropped the federal safety standard requirement for anti-lock brake systems on all new

They did so because studies showed a 0% decrease in the overall number of accidents when
comparing ABS equipped cars against those without ABS, AND because these studies
showed a 40% increase in single vehicle run-off-the-road accidents with ABS equipped cars.
(Apparently your odds of getting into an accident if you lock your brakes in a car is less than if
you do not - implying that if you lock them you will likely simply slide in the direction you were
moving, but if you maintain some measure of (impaired) control you are likely to throw the
vehicle into a path that takes you off the road.)

I think ABS makes sense for a cage, and maybe more sense for an 18-wheeler, but is of
essentially no value on a motorcycle. It affects stopping distance insignificantly. What it is
intended to do is help maintain control if you ride over surfaces that provide uneven traction -
such as a patch of ice. A cage could hit that patch with just one tire, or just the tires on one
side, and braking and control could easily be lost as a result. If you hit ice with a motorcycle it
will invariably be with both tires. Meanwhile, a slide is a slide is a slide.

On the other hand, if your bike is equipped with ABS you do not have to be as skilful with your
brakes and if you want to eliminate the chance of locking either your front or rear wheels, ABS
is just the ticket for you. (I think working at making your braking skills as good as possible is a
better strategy for almost anybody.)

One other thing, you might consider ABS as a form of insurance. I, for example, have deer
whistles on my bike as a form of insurance even though I have essentially no confidence that
they are effective. If price is not an issue, and even if you are not totally convinced that ABS
will save your life someday, it might be worth it to you to have ABS on your bike.

Obviously, these are just my opinions on the matter. I do not want to leave you with the
impression that I'm recommending against having ABS. Instead, I'd prefer you made that
decision based on being informed and having realistic expectations.

                                     By James R. Davis

If, when you apply your rear brake, your motorcycle also applies front braking for you, then
you have some form of 'integrated braking.' In the case of the Honda GoldWing, there are two
front disc brakes and one rear disc brake. One of the front brakes is independently controlled
by the front brake lever while the other front brake and the rear brake are both activated by
the rear brake pedal.

Some people do not understand why integrated braking exists and are of the opinion that they
are unsafe. There are some who actually disable (or want to) this function and tie the two
front brakes together so that they are both activated at the same time and exclusively by the
front brake lever.

The reason they do this is NOT in order to increase the amount of braking force they can
employ on the front wheel, but in order to prevent using any front brake force at all under
certain braking conditions. In other words, they want the ability to selectively use either their
front or rear brakes, or both. This, because they fear that integrated braking increases the
odds that on slippery roadways they will lock the front wheel with the resulting dumping of
their bike.

This is a common concern by those that have had no experience with integrated braking
systems, but is, in my opinion, an exaggerated concern.

Let's get something out of the way right up front - there is NEVER a time to aggressively use
your REAR brake. IT is the most dangerous control on your motorcycle because it is so easy
to abuse.

Under severe braking weight transfer results in far more load on the front tire than on the rear
one. What that means is that it takes far less braking force to lock the rear wheel. Let's say,
for arguments sake, that 70 percent of the bike's weight is on the front tire and 30 percent on
the back one during a severe braking event, and let's also assume that your bike weights
1,000 pounds with you on it. In this case if you applied about 300 pounds of braking force to
the rear wheel it would be close to sliding.

Your integrated braking system (at least in the case of a GoldWing) is setup up such that
when you apply 300 pounds to the rear brake something between 200 and 250 pounds of
braking force is applied to one of your front brakes. (This is because the size of the piston in
the integrated front brake is smaller than the piston in either of the other two brakes as well as
the pistons in the master cylinders.) Since there is 700 pounds of load on the front tire, it is
clear that the integrated braking system cannot cause the front wheel to lock by itself. On the
other hand, if you didn't use the front brake lever at all in this condition, you have applied only
a total of less than 550 pounds of braking force (300 + up to 250) and that is not enough to
have caused a weight shift resulting in 70% being on the front tire. In other words, you had to
use the front brake as well in order to be in a 'severe braking' condition.

Let me review for a second: Braking causes a weight transfer towards the front. If you do not
lock the rear brake, you CANNOT lock the front brake unless you also aggressively use the

front brake lever. So, if you lock the front wheel you do so with the front brake lever, not the
rear one.

If you agree that it is NEVER appropriate to aggressively use the rear brake, it becomes only
marginally important when stopping aggressively. (Though that margin could be the difference
between life and death.)

So, integrated braking should be viewed as providing an added safety margin when you need
to stop aggressively. Whether the surface is dry or wet, the relationship between the two
integrated brakes is the same and what has been said so far remains true.

What if, however, you overuse the front brake while using less rear brake than would cause
the rear wheel to lock? Then it is entirely possible to lock the front wheel. This possibility is
apparently what concerns inexperienced users the most.

I assume, because virtually all motorcycle riders know better, that you do not employ 'severe
braking' while your bike is leaned over in a curve. That is, you straighten the bike up before
you grab the binders. If that is the case, then what is the consequence of locking the front
brake? A slide that you can abort by simply releasing some of the front brake pressure.

Since your SPINNING rear wheel provides gyroscopic stability for the majority of your
motorcycle, (meaning you have not locked the rear wheel, just the front one), then your sliding
front tire will not immediately dump you to the ground as it would if it were sliding in a turn. In
other words, you have time to release the front brake to recover.

Most people, once they learn that the rear brake must never be used aggressively, are far
better off having integrated braking than not because of the marginal increase in stopping
power it provides.

But there is a time when they can get in the way. If you are driving at slow speeds on slippery
surfaces (such as on a gravel covered parking lot), then the combination of both front brakes
being used can cause the front wheel to lock easily. That is, since we are not talking about
'severe braking', then there is minimal weight on the front tire at this time and it is easier to
lock that wheel.

If going in a straight line you can save the situation by simply releasing the front brake, just as
before. But when you are driving on a parking lot it is not unthinkable that you are making a
turn or two, and if you lock that front wheel when it is not dead centre, you will dump the bike.

So, should you disconnect the integrated brakes to prevent a parking lot dump? NO! Just
don't use your front brake lever in this case. As we discussed, your rear brake lever always
applies more braking force to your rear brake than it does to the integrated front brake. If you
do not lock the rear wheel with it, you will not lock the front wheel either.

Finally, it is NOT true that just because you have integrated braking it is impossible to apply
rear-wheel braking without getting some front-wheel braking. How so? Just use engine
braking rather than your rear-brake pedal.

                        Test It Before You Need It
                                     By James R. Davis

Before you need to use your front brake in an emergency you should insure that it works

Just squeeze the lever as hard as you can. No part of that lever should get within 1/2 inch of
your grip. If it gets closer, then in an emergency you can catch a finger (especially if it has a
ring on it) beneath the lever and limit your ability to stop. In the extreme, where you can cause
the lever to actually touch the grip by squeezing it, you cannot get maximum stopping power
from your front brake under any circumstance.

What is likely wrong if the lever travels too far?

Most likely, there is air in your brake fluid. If so, just bleed the system and replace the fluid.

If there is no air in the fluid, then the odds are that the rubber tubing in the brake line is getting
weak. Replace it. Better still, replace it with armour clad flexible tubing and you will be
amazed with how much more braking power you have.

Though it is rare, there may be a simple adjustment that establishes lever travel. Readjust it
for at least 1/2 inch clearance.

Your life depends on being able to stop quickly. Surely it makes sense to check that lever
before you need it?

                         Your Anti-squat Linkage
                                     By James R. Davis

It amazes me how misinformation and folklore spreads and soon becomes 'fact'. For
example, no doubt you have heard that if your rear wheel is driven with a chain then when
you accelerate the rear-end of the bike will squat while if the rear wheel is shaft driven it will
rise. You may also have heard that you cannot do either a 'wheelie' or a 'stoppie' if your bike
is shaft driven. WRONG!

Observe the diagram to the right. It
shows a rear wheel and its swing arm.
The swing arm, you will note, is joined
to the bike frame via a pivot which is
higher than the hub of the wheel. (This
configuration is normal. There are a
few bikes which do not even have a
swing arm and fewer still that have the
swing arm connected to the frame at a
point lower than the wheel hub.)
Wherever the swing arm attaches to
the frame, it is behind the bike's Centre
of Gravity.

Whether the motorcycle is chain driven or uses a shaft, the connection of the rear wheel to
the frame of your bike is as described. Your rear suspension system connects the frame of
the bike to the rear wheel by attaching one end of your shocks to the swing arm.

So let's look at what happens when
you accelerate. This diagram shows
that as the wheel turns (clockwise) it
moves to the right. In doing so it exerts
a force to the frame thru the swing arm.
Since that arm is angled upwards, the
force exerted is divided between a
forward component and an upward
component - it is NOT simply pushing
the motorcycle forward. As a result, the
motorcycle moves forward and,
because the upward force is behind the
bike's CG, the rear-end of the bike moves UP. You will also observe if you look closely that as
the angle of the swing arm increases, the wheelbase decreases. THAT is the significance of
an upward pointing swing arm.

Now a mental exercise ... what would happen if you tried to accelerate and the tire was not
allowed to rotate? Clearly the only thing that could happen is that the swing arm (and thus
the bike's frame) would try to rotate counter clockwise. This, of course, is true even if the tire
does rotate. That is, traction at the contact patch would push back against the tire with
exactly the same force as the tire pushes against the road surface from acceleration,
regardless of whether the swing arm is pointing up or not. For any given length of swing arm,
the higher the frame pivot point is above the contact patch, the greater will be the lifting of
the rear end from acceleration. In other words, whether that pivot point is above or below the
wheel hub, acceleration must result in the raising of the rear-end of the motorcycle.

On the other hand, weight transfer attempts, in all cases, to try to lower the rear-end during
acceleration. Weight transfer is a function of how high the centre of gravity is compared to
the length of the wheelbase. The ratio of height of swing arm pivot point to how far forward it
is of the rear wheel hub (sometimes called the chain angle) is almost always greater than the
weight transfer ratio and THAT is why the rear end of the bike lifts during acceleration.

The top of the engine, particularly on chain driven bikes, tends to torque towards the rear of
the bike when accelerating. This, at once, tends to compress the rear shocks and extend the
front ones. This is rarely sufficient to offset the effect of the swing arm described.

Finally, weight shifts towards the rear on any bike while it accelerates. But, your shocks are
not uniformly compliant. That is, the rate at which a shock absorber compresses is a function
of the square of how fast the load is applied. When any load is applied quickly to your rear
shocks they seem to 'stiffen' before compressing. (The springs do not stiffen, it's the damper
which is more efficient with increased speed of loading.) In other words, the rear-end of your
motorcycle will rise first, then it will squat because of weight transfer.

So why should anyone care?

Because just as it is almost always true that the rear-end will rise when you accelerate, the
rear-end will squat when you use the rear brake. This, because the chain angle remains
greater than the weight transfer angle. And, on normal swing arms, when the rear brake is
used the swing arm is pulled level with the road (i.e., front end of it will move down.) This
lowers the Centre of Gravity and lengthens the wheelbase at the same time. In other words, it
makes the bike easier to control. It becomes more stable.

You want to make the job of riding slowly easier? Use the rear brake.

As to 'wheelies' and 'stoppies', both are accomplished as a function of how high the CG is
relative to the bike's wheelbase (which defines the weight transfer angle), not whether the
bike is chain or shaft driven. [I assure you that the GoldWing below is shaft-driven.]

              Never Hit The Bike In Front Of You
                                    By James R. Davis

Group riding has lots of benefits for its participants, and a few new responsibilities.

For example, recently we heard about a group ride that turned sour when the lead bike failed
to recognize where he was supposed to make a left turn and drove past that road. The
second bike in the group did recognize the turnoff and decided to make it. He turned left and
the third bike promptly ran into him.

What went wrong? It was argued that if nobody was following too closely then the actions of
bike two would have saved everybody in the group (other than the lead bike) from having to
make a U-turn and there would have been no accident.

Probably true, but almost any group rider with experience understands that it is up to the
leader to make decisions about when and where the group will change directions. It might
well have been that the leader had a reason for failing to make that turn. He could, for
example, have realized that the group was going too fast to safely make that turn. (If anybody
in the group understands the danger to a group of making sudden moves it is an experienced
lead bike.) Further, what if the second bike did not willingly make that left turn - that he had a
mechanical problem such as a flat tire that caused it. Since all members of a group are
expected to follow the direction set by the lead bike, UNLESS IT IS INTO DANGER, all other
bikes in the group (other than the drag bike) should have attempted to avoid bike two and
continue behind the leader.

An example: The past State Director for GWRRA in Texas was once leading a ride in which
he took a turn too fast and left the road. Not one single rider behind him followed - they were
experienced group riders, not just 'chicken'. You are, ultimately, responsible for your own ride
from a safety point of view.

Bike two, in the accident described earlier, was way out of line to unilaterally decide to take
over lead position - to mutiny, if you will. However, the fact that the third rider ran into the
second rider suggests that she was either riding too close to the second rider, or was
inattentive, or was so confused by the unorthodox behaviour of bike two that she could not
react fast enough to prevent the accident. Whatever the reason, bike three broke the prime
directive - 'Never hit the bike in front of you!'

When you are riding in a group as other than lead or drag bike your principal activity is 'station
keeping' - maintaining proper distance between yourself and the bike ahead of you. Since the
vast majority of accident threats present themselves to you from the front, each person should
be encouraged to focus their attention primarily in front of them. In other words, it is
dangerous to spend too much time watching your rear-view mirrors. Thus, the prime directive.

That said, if you accept the prime directive and assume that all the other riders have done the
same, then you are also tacitly acknowledging that you trust the rider behind you. But, of
course, you may never have ridden in a group with that person before. You may not have
even met that person before. Further, it is common practice to put the weakest and least
experienced riders towards the back of a group. Is that not setting up for an accident?

Not at all! The weakest/least experienced riders are in the back because these are the people
most likely to have an accident. Thus, they are placed towards the back so that such an
accident can put the fewest other people as possible into danger. It also allows the drag bike
to observe how these riders handle themselves and to work with them at stops about the little
things that they may be doing wrong.

As to their potential danger to the riders in front of them, that can be managed. Let me give
you an example of savvy group riding behaviour by an experienced rider who became
concerned that the bike following was too close to her. She simply used a hand signal telling
the bike behind her to slow down.

Even though most of us have CBs, we tend to use hand signals as well - to keep those
without CBs informed. While there is a stated rule that all hand signals must be passed back,
most individuals in a group ride tend never to originate such a signal thinking that this is just
one more job of the lead bike. The exception to this is the case where an individual rider in
the group notices a hazard in the roadway and points to it so that all behind will be alerted.

An individual group rider CAN ALWAYS initiate a hand signal telling the person behind
him/her to slow down. This is the way to reduce concern about an inexperienced rider in the
rear driving too close to the bike ahead of him. On the other hand, nobody but the lead bike is

entitled to originate a hand signal telling the person behind him/her to speed up. (This is
another way of saying that spacing in a group is usually specified in terms of minimums ('no
closer than 1 second') - the riders can individually decide to use a larger space.)

The prime directive, if flawed, errors on the side of conservatism. It mandates that attention
be primarily directed towards the front. It mandates that you not follow too closely. It makes
you think about what the bike ahead of you (closest ahead of you, not literally 'straight ahead')
is doing or might do next rather than what the lead bike is up to. It gives you a modest
suggestion about what to do if *you* are about to have an accident. (i.e., if you are riding in
the right track, and there is a hazard in the road ahead of you, the prime directive forces you
to tend to turn towards the right to avoid that hazard - thus, taking you farther away from the
closest bike ahead.)

          Compiled from the newsgroup by Scott Harpster
    1     Putting your foot into a hole when stopping.
    2     Putting your foot down on something slippery when stopping.
    3     Locking the front wheel during overenthusiastic braking.
    4     Missing the driveway and sliding on the grass.
    5     Not putting the kickstand down when getting off.
    6     Make a turn from stop in gravel or sand at high throttle.
    7     Not putting a board ('foot')under the kickstand on asphalt on a hot day.
          Letting overenthusiastic people sit on your bike who have never been on a
    9     Forgetting the bike's in gear when you jump on the kickstarter.
          Revving the engine, releasing clutch, and putting feet on pegs when the light
          turns green, but the bike's in neutral.
    11    Not putting your foot down when stopping at red light.
    12    Losing balance when putting it on the centerstand.
          Take an hour ride in 30 degree weather with no gloves, stop at a stop sign and
          pop the clutch when you start because you've lost feeling in your hands.
          Putting your foot down at a toll booth on the thick layer of grease that builds up
          when cars stop.
    15    Using too much power when you pull out of a greasy toll booth.
          Ignoring the sand that builds up in the spring at the side of the road (in places
          where roads are sanded and salted in winter.)
          Kicking your kickstand in a cool fashion and having it bounce back up instead
          of staying down.
    18    Getting off your bike while it is running and forgetting that is in gear.

     Trying to kick start your first bike over and over because you didn't realize that
     it was really out of fuel, and getting the goofy metal ring on the side of your
     boot caught in the kickstarter, causing you (and the bike) to go over on the
     right side.
     Starting your brand-new electric-start trail-bike, riding around an ornamental
     shrub on full left lock, throwing it to the right and accelerating to wheelie over
     the curb onto the street and _then_ discovering that you hadn't unlocked the
     On same bike, getting the dual-range lever caught inside your jeans as you
     come to a stop...
     Having your boot/jeans catch the gear-lever and putting your running bike into
22   first gear whilst reaching for the side-stand (which is why I now automatically
     pull in the clutch whenever deploying or retracting the stand.)
     Having "green" racing linings which have much higher coefficient of friction on
     the slight rust that forms on the polished drum when you've not ridden for a
     few hours, and lose the front-end holding the brakes on against the throttle to
     wear off the rust.
     Having a three-cylinder two-stroke that's so smooth you think you're in second
     when you're actually in first, so you spin out when the undercarriage touches
     down in a tight corner passing a car and you think, "just a bit more throttle will
     help here..."
     Revving bike in impressive squidly fashion at red light, thinking it's in neutral;
25   dropping clutch and standing in place while bike wheelies and backflips into
     Having your fat-ass brother (as a pillion) lean waaay over to the side to look at
     something on the ground while at a stop sign.
27   Wife gets foot caught on saddlebag while getting on before you.
28   Rebuild carbs and treat bike like it still needs full gas away from a stop.
29   Bald tires, and a smatter of rain.
30   Look at the sand at the edge of the exit ramp rather than through the turn.
     Neither you nor your dad watching while he's backing his car up to the
     woodpile to unload wood.
     Not putting the pin that holds the centre stand all the way in and then trying to
     put the bike on the centre stand.
     Trying to hold the bike upright before deploying the centre stand only to find
     your knees are too weak from riding.
     Park behind friend's mom's minivan figuring "If anybody goes anywhere, they'll
     surely see it. 'Especially since there'll be 5 of them getting into the van.
     After getting fuel at gas station and holding the bike level with your legs in
35   order to fill it completely, jumping off forgetting that your legs were holding it
     upright not the kickstand.
     Entering a DR ("decreasing radius") turn too fast. This is especially dangerous
36   when making a right turn where if you attempt to straighten up and brake,
     you'll plough into oncoming traffic.
     Trying to countersteer (or wheelie) your shaft driven bike? [Obviously the
     person who posted this doesn't have a clue.]
     Getting your boot/ shoelace caught on the gearshift. (I wear laceless boots

     Attempting to kick start a cantankerous '84 CR500, whilst standing on a picnic
     table bench, and she *kicks* back!
     Getting pissed off for dropping it in the first place, yanking it vigorously off the
     ground, only to have it drop to the _other_ side.
41   Pulling out the swing arm stand, and forgetting to put the sidestand down first.
     Backing down an inclined driveway, turning to either side with a full tank of
43   Taking the bike off the centerstand and forgetting the sidestand.
44   Riding on wet grass with street tires (Almost as bad as ice!!)
45   Riding on wet asphalt with dirt tires (Almost as bad as ice!!)
46   *Thinking* the kick stand was down when it wasn't.
47   Kick stand slowly burying itself in hot asphalt.
48   Kick stand slowly burying itself in soft ground.
     Backing up perpendicular to a steeply sloped driveway and attempting to put
     your foot down on the downhill side while on a large bike with a high seat. (By
     the time your foot reaches the ground the bike is so far off centre balance you
     won't be able to hold it up.)
     Backing your bike down a plank, by yourself, from the bed of a pickup truck.
     Works great as long as you remember that once you start moving, stopping for
     any correction is out of the question. Get two people to stand on each side of
     you and the bike.
     Losing your balance when coming to a stop because of fatigue from a long
51   trip. The wind and the buzz of the bike induces an unexpected case of vertigo.
     Stop often and rest.
     Riding beyond your limits while trying to keep up with someone who is
52   probably riding beyond their own. Always a temptation. The best riders/racers
     understand and use discipline when riding.
     Not paying attention. Always strive to anticipate what could possibly go wrong
     and be planning what you're going to do when it happens, eventually it will -
     and you'll be ready, instead of surprised when you're much more likely to do
     something stupid and reactionary.
     Assuming that all wet roads are created equal. They are much more slippery
     when it first starts to rain - until the oil and dirt are washed away.
     Assuming that the condition of a blind corner is the same as it was the last
55   time you rode it. Instead you find sticks, road kill, oil, rain wash, stones, pot
     holes, garbage, etc.
     Not understanding how to get set-up for a corner when pushing the limits. In
     most cases the bike could have made the corner but the rider decided it
     couldn't and while in a panic attempted to correct the situation with the brake.
     WRONG! MSF course will discuss this at length.
     Riding without all of the protective equipment because I forgot to bring it and
     after all it was just this one time. Turned out to be the wrong time! I forgot my
     MX boots and fell on a steeply banked corner and the foot peg attempted to
     drill into the back of my right calf. On crutches for 3 weeks with a deep bruise.
     Using a little too much power turning the first corner after you've put on new
     tires (with that nice slippery release compound on them).
59   Being too short for the bike you're riding, and coming to a stop sign.

60   Your rider hops on before you are ready.
     Pushing your bike into the garage and letting it get leaned just a little away
     from you, pulling you on top of it to the ground.
62   Pulling off both fork caps while the bike is on its centerstand.
64   Park pointing downhill, don't leave it in gear.
65   Park with sidestand facing up hill, sidestand is too long.
     Allow friend to ride bike that has either no riding experience, or only tiny dirt
66   bike riding experience (they will wheelie out of control, fly straight at the
     nearest object, or drop it attempting to stop suddenly.)
67   Pulling into Dairy Queen and slipping on a spilt chocolate malt.
     Sitting on your bike on an inclined driveway talking to a very pretty girl,
68   forgetting where in the hell your mind is and then noticing that it's already too
     close to the ground to stop.
     Change rear-end oil on a shaft drive bike, spill 90w on tire, don't clean it up
     and then make a really sharp turn out of the driveway. *Splat*
     Parking your bike so that it stands upright with the kickstand down and then
70   having a slow leak in the rear tire which causes the kickstand to push the bike
     Running into a bus after a 120mph+ high speed chase where there is
     helicopter pursuit and you are being taped by 5 local news stations.
     Spending 3 hours washing and waxing your bike and then stepping back to
72   admire it with some buddies and then watch it fall right off its side stand while it
     was warming up.
73   Pushing it over.
74   Covering it with a windsail (aka canvas cover) and letting the wind push it over.
     Unbolting too many components from the back so that the bike falls off the
     Having an internally rusted CX500 centre stand come apart whilst putting the
     bike onto it.
     Discovering when you stop and try to put your foot down that the kickstart
     lever is up your pant leg.
     Letting your wife drive the bike and having her stall it on an inclined driveway
     while in a 45 degree angle to the incline.
     Entering a banked freeway onramp with a stoplight at the end, and realizing a
     little too late that the downside is just a _little_ steeper than you thought.
     Whacking the throttle open on the highway when you think there's no cop
     around then slowing to normal speed again only to realize that a trooper has
     been trying to catch up with you for two miles and he's pissed so he decides to
80   run you off the road because he thinks you were trying to run away from him,
     even though you explain to him that if you were trying to run that he wouldn't
     have caught you then getting out of any ticket because *@!!$#, uh I mean cop,
     felt bad even though he never said "I'm sorry" . . . .but I'm not bitter.
     While pushing your bike in an attempt to start it by compression, jumping on
     side-saddle with excessive vigour.
     Successfully compression starting your bike while running along side, only to
     find out that you'd held a BIT too much throttle!

      Deploying the centre-stand without noticing that the ground falls away on the
      other side.
      Taking the wife on a ride on your brand new, first bike in 20+ years and
      making a slow, tight, turn on gravel.
85    Riding in stilettos and getting stuck on the footrest.
      Swinging your legs too enthusiastically over the bike with tight trousers on and
      kicking it over.
87    Dismounting while trying not to wet yourself (cold weather..tuh!)
88    Riding short distances side-saddle fashion.
89    Pulling off with a blood alcohol level exceeding the stated limit.
90    Reaching down to pick up your gloves/keys/glasses.
91    Paying too much attention to the tiltometer on your valkarie.
      Dropping your dirt bike on the side of a steep hill covered in pine humus, then
92    while getting it righted goes over the down side because it's too far of an angle
      to get a foot down.
      Trying to ride away on the side of a steep hill covered in pine humus which is
      slipperier than sand.
      Bopping down the freshly-oiled farm lane to see the neighbour kid with my
      brother on the back, cautiously toeing the rear brake, feeling the rear wheel
      slide as we headed straight for the barn, grabbing a panicky handful of front
      brake, doing a slow highside despite dabbing mightily, sliding right up to the
      barn door prone on the well-oiled bike with my brother on top of the pile, and
      hearing the neighbour say "Didn't that thing used to be orange?"
      Kill the bike while leaned over trying to make a slow, sharp turn in a parking
      Forgetting to remove the disc lock and taking off from the curb with
      haste...Tends to break the front calliper, too.
97    Falling asleep.
      Getting help from a neighbour in pushing your 750 up a steep ramp into a
      moving truck. Though he might assure you that he used to ride a motorcycle, it
      turns out it was a 125 in Bombay. He gets 2/3 of the way up the ramp, looks
      panicked, and his knees buckle. Crunch.
99    Looking at the pretty curb to your left on a right-hand bank.
100 Trying to get a wasp or bee out of your jacket while sitting on the bike.
    Trying to start out in a quick turn (leaning in anticipation of giving it throttle)
101 and stalling it out because the engine hasn't warmed yet - it's a nice, slow
      Forgetting to put in oil after an oil change. Starting 'er up, and wondering why
      the low oil pressure dummy light doesn't turn off.
      After a brake job, forgetting to pump the lever/pedal a few times, and taking
      off, wondering why there's no brakes as you're coming up on the intersection.
104 Having a mechanical gate close on you as you're trying to ride through.
105 Hitting that patch of sand which has washed across the road on a blind bend.
      Absentmindedly putting the bike on the kick stand and walking away before
      you check to see if the driveway is level.

      Applying your usual amount of throttle but with a passenger behind you ...
      "cool ... look at that plane".
      Pushing your bike into a crowded garage, letting it get leaned just a little away
      from you, pulling you on top of it into your vintage MG.
    Popping a wheelie while showing off for a girl, almost looping it, slamming on
109 the rear brake to compensate, and passing out from the bollocking several
    yards later.
      Assuming the puddle of liquid behind the convenience store was water when it
      was actually used motor oil.
    Starting bike while habitually squeezing clutch lever, standing to the left of the
    bike, remembering too late that the bike is in gear. Realize too late that the
    choke gives the bike enough power to drag you 30' across the parking lot in
    first gear.
    On your third ride with your first ever bike. Stop at a red light. When the light
112 turns green, you have to start uphill, and turn right at the same time. Somehow
    that overwhelmed me.
      Parking on a bit of an incline (slopes down right to left), having your left foot
      slip a little when getting back on the bike, and slowly loosing your balance.
114 Let your buddy ride it. And if you are really stupid let him ride it again.
      Turning onto a busy street and in the middle of the turn you suddenly
      remember that this street has trolley tracks.
      Put armour all on your tires to make them look nice and pretty and then ride on
      the white safety lane line as you take a HARD right turn at 35mph.
      Throw a party and get together with a random girl on your bike in the garage
      while extremely drunk.
    Pull into parking and failed to ensure proper extension of the sidestand then
118 with near perfect execution of the Laugh-in scene where the bike topples over
    onto your leg, and you're going down, pinned beneath.
    Stop for gas, carefully shut off ignition and take key out (to unlock tank),
    carefully remove helmet and set it over mirror, carefully remove gloves and
    place on instruments, open jacket, step off bike ... forgetting to put sidestand
      With bike off, try to make walking U-turn in driveway. Bike doesn't have
      necessary turning radius, front wheel leaves pavement and goes into soft dirt.
    The setting: Bikes at inside end of driveway, on contestants, facing away from
    front of driveway. Backing cage into driveway ... slowly ... at about the right
    point, stop ... note that cover on bike #1 is moving slightly ... notice bike #1
    ever-so-slowly roll forward off its centerstand, then sideways into bike #2. Bike
    #2 stands there and takes it without falling ... but there's no way to get it to lift
      Tweaking the front brake at a light as you JUST come to a stop with the forks
      turned to either side at ALL on a top-heavy bike.
    Jump an old dirt bike over your parents' fence (use a ramp to get enough
123 height). Realize on the way down that you *don't* know how to land. (I believe
    this was caused by "Adolescent Invincibility Syndrome".)
      Test-ride an Electra Glide Sport (OK, these days it would have to be a Road
      King) around the old, cracked pavement in Brisbane near the Cow Palace.
125 Have a BMW with the sidestand linked to the clutch lever, so that pulling in the

          clutch retracts the stand.
        Put the bike back together after waiting months since the last crash for a part
        to arrive, and don't install fuel filters. Gas tank rust clogs carburettor float
        needles, overflow tubes lube rear tire, brake to avoid manhole cover in curve,
        the waited-for part is broken.
        Park next to some %$#@ on a Triumph who leaves his disc lock on, and
    127 return to find your XV1100 with a few dents and a little note saying 'Sorry' in
        the brake lever. (I left my phone number too...)
        While riding home the day after getting your shiny new bike turn onto a dirt
        road and discover that they are in the process of combing the road and your
    128 front tire is now sliding through four inches of loose wet sand (Did I mention it
        was raining). While picking up your bike be sure to grind plenty of sand into the

                                       By James R. Davis

In the discussion on counter-steering you learned a great deal about camber thrust and how it
helps convert the lean of a wheel into a turn of that wheel. We will now look at the tires more
closely and see that though camber thrust helps change the direction of travel of the wheel,
the fact that the tires are flexible results in phenomena that tends to fight changing direction.
Specifically, we will look at one kind of tire deformation (torsional) that accounts for under-
and over-steering.

Tires can deform in four ways:

  Radially - (from side to side) - like the bulging in the sidewall above the contact
  Circumferentially - like the way the sidewalls wrinkle in soft drag tires when
  Axially - a deflection that tries to pull the tire off its wheel or rim.
  Torsionally - this is a difference in axial deflection from the front to the back of the
  contact patch. Think of a turn to the right. If the rim of the wheel towards the front
  leads the contact patch and the rim of the wheel towards the back trails the contact
  patch then it is clear that the rim has twisted to the right more than has the contact
  patch. (See the second diagram below.)

To the right you see a representation of a tire as seen from the
top. The green area is what the contact patch would look like if
you had x-ray vision. This representation is of a tire that is
moving in the direction it is pointed.

The lower the air pressure within the tire is, the greater will be
the radial deformity of the tire. That is, the larger the bulging
will be around the contact patch and the larger the contact
patch itself will be.

The bulging demonstrates that the sidewalls of a tire have
great flexibility. Because the flexing of rubber generates heat,
but is a poor conductor of that heat, if your tire pressure is too
low you can damage the sidewalls by riding on under inflated
tires - a catastrophic failure can result.

To get a feeling for what torsional deformity is, sit on your motorcycle at a dead stop and turn
the handlebars 20 degrees in either direction. When you let go of the handlebars the front
wheel will be pointed something between 15 and 18 degrees from where it was before you
turned it - not 20 degrees. Indeed, if you paid attention you noticed the handlebars 'spring'
back part way when you let go of them. How can you account for this phenomena?

Obviously, the contact patch did not turn as far as you thought it would when you turned the
handlebars. Why? Because the contact patch has traction with the road surface and the tire's
sidewalls flexed (torsionally deformed). The fact that there was a springing back of part of the
movement of the handlebars is merely the result of the torsional deformity 'unwinding' when
force was removed.

Torsional deformity happens
whenever you are moving in other
than a straight line. The diagram to
the right shows a tire (from the top -
ignoring lean angle) on a bike that is
making a right turn. You will note
that the direction the wheel actually
travels is determined by which way
the contact patch is pointed, NOT
the wheel itself. Further, the diagram
is illustrative of what happens to
BOTH the front and rear tires.
Indeed, because of the greater
camber thrust of the front tire, the
discussion so far is more apt of what
happens with the rear tire than of the
front one.

The angular difference between the
direction the contact is pointing and
that of the wheel itself is called its slip angle. It should be apparent that if the slip angles for
the front and rear tires are the same, the bike will steer essentially as if there was no slip
angle at all. But, at least for a motorcycle, you will find that the tire in the rear generates a
larger slip angle than does the tire in the front.

If the rear slip angle is larger than the front one you have a condition known as over-steer
while if the front slip angle is larger, the condition known as under-steer results.

You will recall that a slip angle results from a combination of the facts that the tire's sidewalls
are flexible AND that the tire has traction. Note that if there is no traction (riding on ice, for
example) then the slip angle will become essentially zero. On the other hand, if a wheel

travels in a direction other than the one its contact patch is pointing, then you have a SLIDE
angle rather than a slip angle. Slide angles and slip angles are VERY DIFFERENT.

Let me make this very clear. Inertia determines the direction a bike will travel if it slides. If you
lose traction you will slide in the direction you were travelling at the time the slide starts. So
long as you have traction you will travel in the direction the contact patch points, not the tire.
Slide angle is the angular difference between the direction inertia sends you and the direction
your tires are pointing while slip angle is the angular difference between the direction your
contact patch is pointed (thus, the direction the tire moves) and the direction the tire is

Decreased traction reduces slip angles and increases slide angles!

What else affects slip angles? Acceleration and braking, tire profile size, belt wrap direction,
and tire camber.

   Acceleration and braking affect traction primarily because of weight transfer.
   A 'low profile' tire has sidewalls that do not flex as much as normal tires - hence,
   less torsional deformity (i.e., less slip angles.)
   Radial tires are belted with the belt threads running radially while standard tires are
   biased at an angle or circumferentially. In addition, radial tire sidewalls are
   constructed to strongly resist axial deformation. In other words, radial tires produce
   smaller slip angles than do the others. (This means that it is critically important that
   you NEVER have one tire be a radial and the other be standard construction. Corner
   handling will be almost unpredictable!)
   Compared to the rear tire, since the front tire of a motorcycle is narrower and has
   greater camber, its camber thrust is greater. Camber thrust attempts to turn your
   wheel into a turn. Thus, greater camber thrust yields smaller slip angles.

For these reasons you should expect that your rear tire is almost always operating with a
greater slip angle than your front tire. (i.e., your motorcycle tends to over-steer.)

What changes a slip angle into a slide angle? Excessive slip angles!!! That is, a slip angle is
so called because the part of the contact patch that is to the outside of your turn is moving
faster than the wheel itself is in the direction it (the contact patch) is pointing while the part on
the inside is moving more slowly. (Exactly like camber thrust.) Since the outside part is
moving faster than the tire it must be slipping. The inside part is gripping better than it would if
moving in a straight line. For this reason the contact patch 'walks' itself into the turn.

The greater the slip angle, the larger portion of the contact patch that is slipping. At some
point there is so little part of the contact patch that is not slipping that traction is lost and the
tire begins to slide. Until shortly before a slide traction increases. Note, however, that traction
is generally not lost all at once. Rather than an abrupt loss of traction, it tends to be lost
gradually. (Thankfully!!!)

So now you know how it is that over-steer means that the rear tire has a greater slip angle
than does the front one, thus it probably has more traction, yet despite that greater traction, it
is the first tire to slide while in a curve.

                                     By James R. Davis

OK, so most motorcyclists go to a parking lot to practice riding skills, not to dump their bikes
so they can have the pleasure of picking them up again. I guess Elaine and I are not exactly
'normal' - we like to think of ourselves as 'odd ducks' - because a few weeks ago we did just

After Elaine practiced driving the Wing by herself I had her dump it on its left side for me.
Though she was not going to try to pick it up herself, since she had never dumped the Wing
before I wanted her to learn how to do it without ending up under the thing.

She dumped it on grass covered firm ground and then I approached the bike and considered
all I had heard about how to pick up 900 pounds of bike by myself. I weigh in at only about
160 lbs. and am only 5'8" high. Frankly, I wasn't at all sure I could do it and had studied the
advice of others to try to avoid doing something that could hurt me.

Virtually everything I had read in the past on the subject argued that you are not to try to lift
the bike with your arms or back - that you should use the largest muscles in your body instead
- your legs. So that is exactly what I intended to do - and this practice event would be more
learning than practice for me as I had never before tried to pick up a down Wing by myself.

Let me tell you that a dumped bike on grass is harder to pick up than one on the street for two

   The case guard and rear guard dig into the ground just a little, but that makes the
   lean angle of the down bike significantly more than it would be if it were laying on
   Getting good traction with your feet on grass can be iffy at best.

The significance of the fact that the bike rests lower when on ground versus pavement is that
you are often unable to get a low enough purchase on it to bring it up without lifting. That is,
the secret to 'picking up' a big bike by yourself is that you PUSH it up rather than LIFT it up,
and if it is laying over at more than a 45 degree angle you will have to do some lifting!

The smaller the angle of lean (relative to vertical), the easier it is to make that angle still
smaller. In other words, it is the first inch or so of movement that is the hardest. So, the very
first thing you should do is try to get the lean angle to be as small as possible. If you are on an
incline, for example, twist the bike until its tires are facing downhill.

The next thing you do is to turn the front wheel as far as possible TOWARDS the ground. If
possible, turn it to its stop and lock it in place. (I found that on the ground I could not get mine
turned all the way - perhaps I am not strong enough, or the bike was leaned too far over.) You
may have to jerk hard on the handlebar to get the wheel turned, but this is a very important
step. Why? Because by turning the wheel towards the ground the frame of the motorcycle is
lifted off the ground. This means you are reducing the lean angle before you even begin to try
to pick up the machine.

                                                If the bike happens to be on its left side, you
                                                should check that the side stand is up, if possible.
                                                If it is on its right side, you MUST make sure the
                                                side stand is down (before you pick up the bike!.)

                                                If possible, insure that the bike is in a low gear or,
                                                in the case of some GoldWings, in reverse, so
                                                that there is minimal chance of the bike rolling
                                                when you get it back on its wheels.

Next, you are going to plant your butt (not your hip) on the seat. So, face away from the
motorcycle and lean against the seat such that the top half of your cheeks are above your
contact with the seat and the bottom half are pressed solidly against the seat. Your feet
should be spread no wider than your shoulder width and planted FIRMLY (you are wearing
RUBBER SOLED boots, right?) on the ground away from the bike by about three feet. Your
knees should be bent at about a 40 to 50 degree angle - anything more than that and you will
probably not be able to straighten them. Indeed, though you want some bend, the less bend
in your knees that you can manage, the easier this effort will be - what limits your choice is
the length of your legs.

Now you need to grasp your motorcycle with your hands on both sides of your body. You
need to hold onto firm structures, but because you should not be doing anything with your
hands other than guiding and possibly a little lifting when you start, they can be parts of your
fairing, a firmly mounted part of your backrest, a passenger handrail, under your seat, or
handlebar. What you hold is not very important except that it is firmly attached (no give) and is
conveniently located.

Now simply walk backwards as you PUSH against the seat. (I remind you that if the bike has
a lean angle of 45 degrees or more you must also LIFT - be careful!)

As you approach vertical the vast majority of the bike's weight will be on the tires. Proceed
slowly so as to prevent going too far and causing it to fall over on its other side. Once vertical,
still facing away from the motorcycle, fish for the side stand with your left foot and bring it
down. Then just let the bike lean over onto the stand.

If the bike had been on its right side when you started you already made sure that the side
stand was down. So, in this case you simply ease the bike past vertical and let it come to rest
on that side stand. Please note that if you are on an incline, my earlier instruction had you
twist the bike such that the wheels face down slope. In this case you will need to be VERY
careful about how fast you let the bike go past vertical or you may find yourself having to pick
it up again from the other side! Indeed, it may be impossible for you to ease it past vertical
without losing control of the bike again. (In this case I would try to change my body position so
that it is facing the front of the bike (while it is vertical) and try to push the bike to a more level
location - but REMEMBER that your side stand is down!)

So now you know what I learned out there on the parking lot with Elaine. I was successful in
picking up my GoldWing by myself after she dumped it on its left side - but because of the
very severe lean angle caused by the fact that the guards dug themselves partly into the dirt I
had to do considerable lifting at the beginning. This left my upper thighs sore from the effort.
Still, I had done it and the feeling of success was more important than the slight quivering of
my thigh muscles.

I had Elaine dump the bike again, this time on its right side. After insuring that the side stand
was down and locked I successfully repeated the lift manoeuvre by myself. Again, my upper
thighs were sore as a result. But let me tell you how happy I was to discover that I could
actually pick up a dumped GoldWing by myself!! It was not easy, but nobody expected it to be
- though it was easier than I expected it to be.

This is after all why we went out to the parking lot - to practice what we each felt was hard for
us individually - so that whatever it was would become easier.

 What is it, why does it happen, and why should
                    you care?
                                     By James R. Davis

When you change speed (accelerate or decelerate) the weight of your motorcycle (including
you) shifts in such a way as to put more or less load on your tires. You do not have to weigh
the load on your tires to know this with certainty because you can see it happen by observing
your front-end 'dive' when you brake.

Traction is proportional to the weight carried by your tires. Thus, when you brake your front
tire gains traction while the rear one loses it. Clearly losing too much traction is dangerous
since the result is that your tire will slide.

Despite what you may think, weight transfer can be controlled beyond simply adjusting your
acceleration and braking rates. That is, how fast you change speeds is not the only thing that
determines weight transfer. Surely you would be interested in minimizing the odds of losing
traction during a panic stop? Read on...

                                       Braking Transfers

Ignoring wind resistance, essentially all the forces that try to slow you down when you apply
your brakes are at ground level. That is, at the contact patches of your tires. On the other
hand, the inertia of your bike works not at ground level, but directly thru its centre of gravity
(CG.) Since the CG is higher than ground level the resulting net force translates into a torque.
In other words, braking does not simply shift weight forward, it tries to shift it down in the front
and up in the rear.

The higher the CG is, the greater the torque. (If the CG was at ground level the torque would
be zero.) On the other hand, the longer your wheelbase is, the lesser the torque. This is just
another way of saying that the amount of weight transfer resulting from a change in speed is a
function of the ratio of the height of the CG to the length of the wheelbase.

Gravity is a force. At ground level gravity tries to make you fall with acceleration at the rate of
about 32.1 feet per second per second (henceforth shown as fps/sec.) This acceleration is
called '1 g.'

'Weight' is just another word for gravity. Like inertia, gravity works directly thru the CG of an

When we brake we apply force which we will simply call a braking force. Braking is nothing
more than a negative acceleration. Thus, when the total braking force is such that your bike's

forward speed is being reduced at the rate of approximately 32.1 fps/sec, you are
decelerating at the rate of 1 g. That is, your braking force then equals the weight of the
motorcycle (including the rider.) If your motorcycle weights 1,000 pounds, then braking at 1 g
means you are applying 1,000 pounds of braking force.

You can calculate the amount of weight transfer involved in any stop knowing only the braking
force being used and the ratio of CG height to wheelbase length. For example, if the total
braking force is 1,000 pounds, your CG is 20 inches off the ground, and your wheelbase is
63.4 inches long:

Wt.Transfer = Braking Force times CG ratio

Wt.Transfer = 1000 lbs. * 20/63.4

Wt.Transfer = 1000 lbs. * .3155

Wt.Transfer = 315.5 lbs.

[We are here discounting entirely the effects caused by tire distortion and suspension
compression. Not because these are not important, but because they are of secondary
importance to an understanding of these principals.]

Now, just because the bike weighs 1,000 pounds and is sitting on two wheels does not mean
that at rest there are 500 pounds on each wheel. Here again we need to know something
about the bike's CG. Only if the CG is exactly in the middle of the bike (between contact
patches) will the weight be evenly distributed. If the CG is closer to the front wheel than the
rear one, for example, then there will be more weight on the front tire than on the rear when
the bike is at rest (not moving.) Further, unless there is an upward or downward movement of
the bike, the sum of the weight carried by the front and rear tires must equal the total weight
of the motorcycle and rider.

Let us assume that at rest the weight is evenly distributed. Then we now know that while
braking at 1 g, because of weight transfer, there will be 815.5 lbs. (500 + 315.5) on the front
tire and only 184.5 lbs. (500 - 315.5) on the rear tire. Because traction is a function of weight
carried by a tire it is clear that there is not a lot of traction left on the rear tire at this time.

Let us look very carefully at what this weight transfer example is showing us. You have heard
that you have about 70% of your stopping power in the front brake. This example shows that
we have applied 1,000 lbs. of braking power to the tires of the bike. If it was ALL the result of
using only the front brake, then we have wasted what traction is still available to us from the
rear tire and, worse, we have locked our front tire and started a skid! This, because virtually
all standard tires lose their 'sticktion' (stick/friction) when confronted with more than about 1.1
g of braking force. With 815.5 lbs. on the front tire it could with reasonable confidence handle
a braking force of 897 lbs. (1.1 * 815.5), yet we applied 1,000 lbs. to it. At least in this case
our front brakes could deliver nearly 90% of our stopping power, not just 70% - but not 100%,

Now let us look at what would happen if the CG happened to be 30 inches high rather than

Wt.Transfer = Braking Force times CG ratio

Wt.Transfer = 1000 lbs. * 30/63.4

Wt.Transfer = 1000 lbs. * .4732

Wt.Transfer = 473.2 lbs.

The front tire would have 973.2 lbs. of weight on it and the rear would have only 26.8 lbs. This
is close to doing a 'stoppie'!!!

What we are beginning to see is that if the CG gets to a height of 1/2 of the length of the
wheelbase we can expect to do a 'stoppie' if we use 1 g of braking force. Further, if we use
even the slightest amount of rear brake in such a configuration when we are slowing at the
rate of 1 g, we can expect to lock the rear wheel.

One more example - we will attempt a 1.1 g stop with this 'higher' bike:

Wt.Transfer = Braking Force times CG ratio

Wt.Transfer = 1100 lbs. * 30/63.4

Wt.Transfer = 1100 lbs. * .4732

Wt.Transfer = 520.5 lbs.

At this point we have transferred MORE than the entire weight which had been on the rear
wheel - we have left the rear wheel with NEGATIVE 20.5 lbs. on it. i.e., our rear wheel has
been lifted off the ground!!!!

Notice, please, that the CG does NOT remain at a constant height during aggressive braking.
If we use exclusively front brake, then the front-end will dive and the rear-end will lift. This
could result in the CG remaining at the same height, but more likely it will get higher. We have
already seen that a higher CG means more weight transfer. Further, as the front-end dives
the result of the compression of the front shocks is a shortening of the wheelbase of the bike.
This, like raising the CG, results in a higher CG to wheelbase ratio, and therefore more weight
transfer. [As an aside, if your bike has an anti-dive feature (TRAC, for example) then MORE
weight transfer occurs to the front wheel than without it. This, because the CG is held higher.
In other words, anti-dive INCREASES the odds of sliding your rear tire!]

If only the rear brake is used there will be a weight transfer to the front tire which will tend to
compress the shocks. Additionally, however, use of the rear brake tends to LOWER the rear-
end of your motorcycle and lengthens its wheelbase, (the swing arm become more level). The
net effect is to lower the CG of the bike. This offsets neatly the fact that the compressing
front-end shortens the wheelbase at the same time. However, since there is a weight transfer,
the rear-end gets lighter while braking which quickly limits how much braking power you can
apply before you skid that tire. In other words, you must use the front brake for maximum
stopping power.

From the above discussion I think you can now see that the use of your rear brake along with
the front brake leads to less weight transfer than if you use only the front brake, and why the
use of both at the same time always results in maximum stopping power.

When a rider mounts his motorcycle he both raises the CG and moves it towards the rear.
The heavier the rider, the more significant these changes to the CG are. We already know
that as the CG rises it causes more weight transfer during speed changes. This raising of the
CG is far more significant than is its shift towards the rear. (This, because the height of the
CG is small compared to the length of the wheelbase.)

What this adds up to is that the heavier the driver of the motorcycle, the easier it is for braking
to cause a breakaway of the rear-end. Is there anything that can be done to mitigate this
potentially deadly problem? You bet! In a panic stop the driver should bend from the hip and
elbows and lean forward! This will cause the CG to lower and move forward. A lower CG is
more significant than its slight movement forward. In summary, there will be less weight
transfer with him leaning forward than if he was sitting straight up in the saddle, there will be

less compression of the front shocks, and less shortening of the wheelbase. i.e., less
likelihood of losing rear-end traction.

Anything else? Yep. Always pack your saddlebags with heavy items towards the bottom.
Every pound below the CG lowers it, every pound above it raises it.

                            Accelerating Transfers - Straight Line

This article has so far focused only on weight transfer associated with braking. It should be
obvious that exactly the same phenomenon happens when you accelerate - the amount of
weight transferred is determined by your rate of acceleration and the CG ratio (height of CG
divided by length of wheelbase.) Though you may not believe that you have an 'anti-dive'
component for your rear wheel like you may in the front, you do. The rear wheel does not
push the frame forward directly. It pushes its 'swing arm' forward. Since the swing arm pivots
on the frame aft of your CG, and since that pivot is almost invariably higher than where the
swing arm attaches to the rear wheel, any accelerating force applied thru the rear wheel tries
to lift the frame of the motorcycle. i.e., rather than calling this an 'anti-dive', think of it as an
'anti-squat'. This keeps the CG higher than it would be otherwise and the result is that there is
greater weight transfer to the rear tire (and correspondingly higher traction results.)

                              Accelerating Transfers - In A Curve
                                       Constant Speed

And what about weight transfers when you are in a curve? You have heard the terms 'over-
steer' and 'under-steer' before, I'm sure. Over-steer means that when you are in a curve your
rear wheel is more likely than the front one to lose traction (ie, your sliding bike will end up
pointing towards the inside of the curve.) while under-steer is the opposite. Weight transfer to
the rear tire from acceleration leads to over-steer (greater slip angle on rear tire) while braking
in a curve, because of weight transfer to the front, leads to under-steer (greater slip angle on
front tire.) Both are deadly concerns if you push tire loads to their limits!! (On the other hand, if
you have a choice you would almost certainly want a little over-steer rather than under-steer
because a brief slide of the rear tire is easier to correct than a similarly brief slide of the front

It would be a deadly mistake to try to use the kind of weight transfer analysis we have
discussed so far in an effort to learn how much acceleration to use while in a curve to
equalize tire loads! (I now assume that you have read and understand the article entitled
'Delta V'.) The weight transfer calculations we have been looking at so far deal with
consequences of longitudinal acceleration. In a curve you are also subject, even if
maintaining constant speed, to centripetal acceleration.

Unlike longitudinal acceleration (changing your speed), which changes your tire loading in a
simple proportion to the CG ratio, centripetal acceleration increases tire load in proportion to
the SQUARE of your change in speed. The formula to determine these forces is:

                  Force = Mass times Velocity squared divided by Radius
                                      F = M*V^2/R

You can assume that most street tires will lose traction when they are subjected to about 1.1
g of force. So how do you tell whether you are close to 1.1 g when in a turn? Simple. If your
effective lean angle is 45 degrees, you are experiencing 1 g of centripetal force. And, from the
formula above you see that the force is extremely sensitive to velocity. This means that a very
minor increase in speed could easily push you past the 1.1 g limit.

What you should understand from this is that using acceleration (speed change) to balance
tire loads while in a curve is foolish. (In general, however, you will want some (minor!!!)
acceleration in a curve as this tends to increase the slip angle of the rear tire which increases
traction, and because you want your rear-end suspension modestly loaded to enhance

Now you know why you want to be sure the load distribution on your bike is set properly
BEFORE you hit the road.

                               Accelerating Transfers - In A Curve
                                       Exiting The Curve

While a modestly increasing speed makes great sense while you are riding thru most of a
curve, it is understood that some people find great pleasure in rolling-on their throttle as they
exit those curves.

Just a little thought, based on all that we have talked about so far, should now convince you
that you must be conservative in this practice while you are leaned over hard, and that you
need to be BOTH widening the curve and standing the bike taller as you do it.

Rather see the effects of weight transfer instead of doing the calculations? If you have Excel
on your system then just take a look at this spreadsheet/model. With it you can modify any of
the inputs shown and observe the effect of the changes. Below is a sample screen displayed
while using the model.

This example shows a heavily loaded motorcycle weighing 1,050 pounds having a Centre of
Gravity closer to the rear wheel of the bike than the front which is travelling in a curve with a
radius of 450 feet with a speed of 50 MPH. The information in the spreadsheet assumes
constant speed.

The chart to the right shows lateral (sideways) force divided by vertical force (load) for each
wheel as a function of acceleration. At zero acceleration the ratio is .37 and, you will note, is
lateral acceleration (i.e., it is .37 g). Notice that the effect of acceleration is radically different
between the front and rear tires.

In the case of the front tire, acceleration merely reduces loading because of weight transfer.
Thus, traction is diminishing in proportion to that acceleration (i.e., traction is a function of the
types of material that are being pressed together and the force pressing them together - since
the load is diminishing due to weight transfer, so is traction.)

The effect of acceleration on the rear tire is quite different, however. You would correctly
assume that weight transfer resulting from acceleration would increase traction on the rear
tire. It does, during modest acceleration. But acceleration (increasing speed) is accomplished
using the rear tire only. That is, there is no longitudinal acceleration affecting the traction of
the front tire, just the rear one. Longitudinal acceleration and lateral acceleration are vectored,
which means the resulting acceleration force is the square root of the sum of the squares of
those forces. (In other words, more than either of them, but not as much as both.) As the rate
of acceleration increases it quickly overwhelms the effect of increasing load on the tire (which
increases traction) and begins to CONSUME THAT TRACTION FASTER THAN IT IS BEING
ADDED. This is shown in the curved line in the chart.

So what do the lines ultimately show? If you assume that the coefficient of friction for your
tires is approximately 1.1, then when either line reaches 1.1 on the chart that tire will lose
traction and skid! The higher the line, the closer to a skid (i.e., the less traction is left.) If you
increase speed or decrease the radius of your turn, your lean angle will get larger. When your
lean angle gets to 45 degrees, the lines will start at 1.0 and even a slight acceleration will
push the lines over 1.1 - which means you will soon be exploring the joys of road rash.

In summary, there are a few obvious reasons to care about weight transfer:

   Traction is directly proportional to the amount of weight carried by a tire - managing
   weight transfer is managing traction.
   Misloading your motorcycle can result in substantial handling problems -
   particularly in a curve.
   In order to manage weight transfer intelligently you need to have a good idea of
   where the centre of gravity of your bike is and what happens to it when you add a
   passenger or luggage.
   Traction will probably be lost if tire load exceeds about 1.1 g. If you are in a curve
   and are leaning at 45 degrees, you already have 1.0 g tire loads. Enough is enough.
   Stopping with your elbows locked guarantees more weight transfer and a higher
   centre of gravity - both undesirable from a control point of view.
   Rolling-OFF your throttle (or braking) if you are 'hot' in a curve is almost certainly
   more dangerous than simply leaning farther into the curve - because weight transfer
   will unload the rear-end which reduces rear tire traction.
   Under-steer and Over-steer both yield slides when load limits are reached -
   balancing the weight reduces the risk.

             More than you ever wanted to know
                                        by Norm Keller

Several Email requests have asked that I try to discuss battery life and "Why Batteries Die".
Please keep in mind that I am not a battery engineer and as always, I hope to provide some
information which may be of service.

Let's consider some aspects of battery theory which may be useful in understanding how
lead-acid storage batteries work. The battery which we find in motorcycle and automotive
applications is intended to produce a high current for a short length of time for starting
purposes. A secondary (maybe considered primary depending on law) purpose is to provide
park lights and to allow for the operation of lighting loads and some accessory loads such as
cooling fans when the engine is not running or is running at too low a speed to allow the
alternator to produce enough to keep up with the load. If we didn't need to electrically start
(crank) the engine, we could make do with a much smaller battery or no battery at all. That
would be another world however so let's look at this one.

The typical lead-acid battery is made up of a case, positive plates, negative plates, plate
separators, cell connectors, filler caps, and electrolyte. The battery case used to be made of a
type of rubberized material but is now of a specialized type of plastic. I use the term
"specialized" to indicate that I don't know what kind of plastic that is made from. (Saying that it
is "specialized" sounds more informed don't you think?) It has the ability to withstand the
effects of the sulphuric acid mixture, a fair amount of impact, extremes of temperature from
below minus 55 degrees C (60 below F) up to over 150 degrees C (300 degrees F). I have
observed batteries surviving these extremes 60 below outside temp and 300 degrees under
hood temp.

The positive plates are made of lead peroxide and the negative plates are of sponge lead.
"Sponge lead" in that the plates are formed of lead which is manufactured with a surface
having a great number of surface irregularities as has a sponge. A battery's capacity is
dependent on the surface area of plates which is exposed to electrolyte - the more plate area
exposed to electrolyte, the more capacity the battery has to deliver current.

At this point, I should mention that the battery is called a "battery" because it is a "battery" of
"cells" and that it is easier to refer to the construction of one cell. A cell is made up of at least
one positive plate (lead peroxide) and one negative plate (sponge lead) which are surrounded
by a sufficient quantity of electrolyte to chemically involve the plate material. In order to
provide enough current (amps) to do the work required, the plate area required (for one cell)
is about 75 square inches for the negative plate group and 85 square inches for the positive
plate group. If you put a light behind your battery next time you have it out, you will be able to
see the plates quite clearly. You will also see that there are dividers, one for each filler cap
which divides the battery case into six separate sections or cells. Each cell has its own
electrolyte and its own set of plates. If you tip the battery a bit, you will see that the electrolyte
does not flow from one cell into the next.

If you have the opportunity to see a battery which has been cut apart, you will see the
construction quite clearly, you will see also that the positive plate material (if new) is a brown
colour (lead peroxide).

Looking at a battery which has been taken apart or with a bit of persistence and a flashlight
looking down the filler cap holes, you will notice that the plates are connected in two groups
and that the plates alternate in order. Starting at one end, they start with a positive, then
negative, then positive, etc. ending with an "extra" positive plate.

Looking at the cell nearest to the positive battery post, you will notice that there are a number
of plates in the first cell. Looking carefully, you will be able to see that the first plate from the
end is connected to a connector bar off the positive battery post and that this connector does
not go through the cell wall into the next cell. Going from the first plate in the cell which is a
positive plate, you can see that there is a separator between this first plate and the plate next
in line. Looking through the filler hole, you will see that the separators extend beyond the
plates to ensure that nothing can "bridge" between two plates. The separator plate is of
porous material which (in the cells which I have taken apart) looks like a heavy piece of

unbleached kraft paper. Sort of like a rectangle of super heavy shopping bag paper. This
separator plate is porous to allow it to be fully impregnated with electrolyte so that it does not
impede the flow of electrons. The separator plate also has vertical raised ridges which provide
some small space between the separator and the plate. The ridges allow small bits of material
which can become separated, to fall to the bottom of the battery case. The purpose of these
separator plates is to prevent the cell plates from coming into contact with one another and to
prevent the cell plates from moving in response to shock or vibration.

Battery plates:

As you have seen, a cell is made up of positive and negative plates which are constructed of
different materials. You will also note that the area required would make the cells (and thus
the battery) very difficult to fit into the bike if the cell were composed of only one positive and
one negative plate. It is also easier to support a number of smaller plates to withstand shock
and vibration than it would be if there were only two large plates per cell. Those of us who are
a bit "long in the tooth" will remember some of the odd shaped 6 volt car batteries which were
in service in the 1940's and 1950's- the shape doesn't matter as long as you can fit the right
number of cells with enough plate area in each to do the job.

When the cell plates are made, they are created by first forming a plate "grid" of solid metal.
This grid looks like a coarse screen with rectangular holes inside a heavier frame which
surrounds the "screen". The purpose of the "frame" is to support the plate and to provide an
electrical conduit for the flow of electrons to and from the active material. The rectangular
"screen" holes are arranged so that the short sides are vertical. The positive plate group is
assembled by welding a connector bar across the top of the plate "frames" along one side. If
the group is to form the first cell at the positive end of the battery, the connector bar will have
the positive battery post (external connector for the cables) attached. The negative plate
group (often containing one less plate) is assembled in the same manner. If the negative plate
group were part of the cell at the negative end of the battery, this connector bar would have
the negative post attached. In this case however we are discussing the cell nearest the
positive (post) end of the battery and the negative plate group will not have a battery post
attached. Instead of a battery post, the negative group's connector bar will have a "U" shaped
piece attached which is connected (really it is part of the connector since these are all made
in one piece) to the connector bar for the next cell. If you look at the top of your battery, you
will note that there are two raised areas on either side of the filler caps. The raised area on
the same side as the battery posts has a vent hose attached and is intended to vent gases
resulting from charging and to prevent electrolyte from splashing out. On both sides of the
battery top is a narrower raised area which accommodates the "U" shaped connectors which
go between the cells.

Going back to the subject of the plates, the grid or frame is composed of a lead-antimony
alloy or a lead-calcium alloy. Older batteries used lead-antimony and the new generation of
batteries (often called "maintenance free") use the lead-calcium alloy. The active material
(lead peroxide or sponge lead) is placed into the spaces in the grid (into the holes in the
screen). The active material is not very strong and requires the support of the grid.

The battery electrolyte is a mixture of 36% Sulphuric Acid (H2 SO4) and water. If the two
plate groups together with their separators are placed into the case and the electrolyte added
the battery must be "formed" by charging it for the first time.

Something which applies a load to the battery (either inside or outside the battery) will drain it
given enough time. The small load required to the "keep alive " circuits to radios and CB's to
allow them to remember stations will eventually drain a battery. It's a good idea to disconnect
the negative cable or main fuse (I prefer the cable) when the bike is parked for a month or
more. Shops are remarkable stupid in this regard! A battery will self discharge, that is it will
drain internally given enough time which is why batteries need periodic recharging when in
storage even if the cable is disconnected. Even more frequently if the cable is not
disconnected. An unfortunate fact of life is that batteries which are designed to produce high
starting currents do not like to be drained. You can completely discharge a new automotive
battery and recharge it 3 or 4 times and then load test and you will often find that the battery's

capacity (ability to deliver current) is markedly less. I've seen many occasions where a new
auto battery was finished after being drained (flat) dead two times. The best advice I can offer
is to avoid at all costs, deep cycling (draining down a lot and recharging) a bike or car battery.
At one time I worked for a Honda car dealer in northern Canada and salvaged a lot of
batteries which were not good enough to provide good starting in the cold although they
would have been fine in cars in warmer climates. These Honda batteries were Yuashas and I
used them on a battery storage system to provide lighting and power to a house in a remote
location. The batteries were placed in two groups in which they were connected in parallel to
produce 12 volts with large current potential. The two groups were used separately to power
the system so that one group was in use while the other was charged. By having one group
out of service at a time only one group could be drained if a load was left on inadvertently. We
experienced many occasions where one or the other group was discharged due to an internal
fault in one battery of the group. The interesting thing (to me anyway) was that the Yuasha
batteries seemed to be remarkable tolerant of cycling and some survived this treatment for
several years. In no occasion did another make (Delco, Motorcraft, Firestone, ESB, Exide,
Sears, you name it) survive for more than three or 4 months. This likely has little to do with
our GW service but if this is indicative of the relative tolerance of Yuashas to drain-charge
cycling, we should be glad that we don't have to use other types. (Note* I say "other types" I
did not say "other makes". Someone else could make a battery of this type, I have just never
seen an auto battery which exhibits these characteristics). Since car and bike batteries are
not called upon to provide deep cycling (deep levels of charge-discharge) this does not speak
to their ability to provide good service in a starting mode.

One could finance a new SE and retirement on the value of batteries which are unnecessarily
replaced in this country in one week. If you have time, disconnect the battery negative, top up
the electrolyte with the best water which you can reasonably obtain and charge the battery.
Let the battery sit for a few days (good winter test) and measure voltage or specific gravity, if
its below 12.6 - 12.8 volts (1.280 - 1.290 specific gravity @ 80 F) you've probably found an
offender. I am always surprised that people will continually recharge a battery which is dead
every morning. Why not disconnect the negative and see if it still goes dead over night? If is
dies while disconnected the battery is the problem. An unlikely problem with bike batteries is
that there are enough electrolytes on the battery top to provide a discharge route.

This couldn't happen anyway because you rinse the top off with a bit of baking soda and
water a couple of times per year, right. Don't forget to have the filler caps in place and tight!

If the battery only goes dead when connected then the drain is via the bike's wiring. If you
have a sensitive induction ammeter or an ammeter to connect in series, you can measure a
drain on the battery and find the drain by disconnecting things until the drain goes away. Keep
in mind the small drain to the radios & clock, etc.

                                     By James R. Davis

I can well remember some 30+ years ago when I was riding solo down the Pacific Coast
Highway in California and seeing a group of motorcyclists up ahead of me. I had never ridden
in a group before and they seemed to be well disciplined and riding safely enough. I
wondered what riding in a group would be like and then I found that I wanted to.

But how do you join a group that you don't know? Can you just catch up with them and get in
line? Must you have the same kind of motorcycle they are riding? Will they get all bent out of
shape if you join them without an invitation?

Many people reading these articles have been riding with groups for years and may not
realize just how difficult it is for the newbie to get answers to simple questions like those
above. So, this one is for them.

First, a brief discussion:

The group of motorcyclists you want to join have more in common than that they happen to
be riding together at the moment. Their history as a group may be no more than an hour old,
but it exists. They could, for example, have just met each other for the first time at a
dealership and are participating in a dealer sponsored ride of some kind. They could all be
members of an organization such as the G.W.R.R.A. or G.W.T.A. - or the Hells Angels.
Whatever their history, and for however long it has existed, they have more in common than
that they happen to be riding together.

As an 'outsider' you might well be welcome to join them, but you have no idea about that
without some feedback from the group itself.

Now if you happen to have a C.B. radio on your bike and at least one of the members of the
group also has one, and if you can happen to find the channel that other person is using,
assuming his radio is on, you can simply hail the group, comment that they look 'good' and
ask where they are going. It will become perfectly obvious to you in short order if the group
might be willing to let you join them or not, given a successful radio exchange.

But the odds are that you do not have a C.B., or that nobody in the group does, or that you
cannot reach anybody on the air, or that nobody responds to your attempts at a radio
exchange. In short, you cannot draw too many conclusions from a failed attempt even if
radios are available.

Besides the obvious facts that the group is riding together, that it has a destination, and that
there is some (however brief) history that they share with each other, there remain some
other realities that you should realize at this point:

   The group may have one or more members in it who is(are) drunk or drugged.
   The group may be out looking for trouble.
   The group may just have experienced trouble with someone else trying to join them,
   uninvited or otherwise.
   The group, despite appearances, may have no idea whatever how to ride safely as a

Thus, it makes very little sense to join an unfamiliar group, even if you do mange to make
radio contact with them.

But since that is what you would like to do, consider doing it as follows:

   Try to make radio contact with them if you can and ask where they are going. If it
   becomes clear that you would be welcome to join them, next find out where they
   plan to make their next stop. Using the radio, tell your contact that you would like to
   join them at that stop and will follow along until you all get there. Tag along behind
   the group, but NOT in formation. Stay behind their last bike with a distance at least

  THREE TIMES what the group is using. This, because most groups place special
  significance to the drag bike position and that rider has unique responsibilities
  (such as securing lanes.) In other words, follow the group to their next stop without
  actually joining them.
  If you are unable to make radio contact with the group then you have no alternative
  but to attempt to join them at their next stop, wherever that happens to be. Do NOT
  join the group uninvited!!!!! Since the group has not yet made it clear that they are
  willing to have you join them you should not tag along as closely as described
  above. In this case you must not appear to the group or to others as if you are part
  of the group and just lagging a bit. Ride in a different lane if you can. Let a car or two
  get between you and the group. If there is only the group and you on the road, follow
  with at least FIVE TIMES the gap that is being used by the group between its
  At the first stop is when you introduce yourself to the group. Park your motorcycle
  somewhere in sight of the others, but NOT as if you are already a part of the group.
  Make your approach to the first member of the group that appears willing to engage
  you. If there is a pecking order in the group and someone else decides whether or
  not someone can join them (almost always true), you will be told about it. In
  conversation find out about the group, its 'rules of the ride', and keep a careful eye
  out for signs of drugs or alcohol.

Then, have a good time, don't press your skill level to 'keep up', accept your prime directive
('NEVER HIT THE BIKE IN FRONT OF YOU'), and make some good friends.

                   A couple of ways to protect it
                                    By James R. Davis

It seems that the older I get the more people I know who have lower back problems, including
myself. Following are a couple of tips that address the lower back. The first may be obvious to
most of you, but the second may come as a surprise.

  If you have a backrest or just a seat with a modest riser in it you should bend
  forward before hitting a bump. Note that this is in addition to putting your weight on
  your foot pegs. When the rear wheel goes over a bump your backrest can hit your
  lower back as if it was a baseball bat if you do not get away from it.
  Wear a good set of leather chaps! These are constructed in such a way as to provide
  a sturdy wide leather band covering the lower back. When you are in a sitting
  position this wide band of leather provides an amazing amount of lower back
  support. Not only is this support of value while you are riding, but if you were to
  ever hit the ground with your back that leather band will provide as much protection
  as a piece of thin steel.

                Your biological shock absorbers
                                    By James R. Davis

In addition to the shock absorbers you are already familiar with (front wheel, rear wheel and
steering damper), there are two more that are very important to you as a motorcycle rider -
your elbows.

In order to allow these shock absorbers to work you must not lock them. That is, you must
droop your elbows while you ride. By drooping them you accomplish the following:

   They remove pressure from the wrists and allow a longer more comfortable ride
   They stop the transfer of front-end instability to the rest of the bike
   They minimize the transfer of load to the front-end during hard braking (leaves it
   lower and farther to the back of the bike)

If you ride a motorcycle which requires that you lean forward over your tank, you already
know that a long ride numbs your wrists and causes your forearms to ache. You know that
you must lean even farther forward in order to unlock your elbows when you are about to take
a bump with the bike.

Touring riders sit on their saddles in a generally erect posture, often with a backrest that they
lean into while riding. If that backrest is too far back they will be forced to ride with their
elbows essentially locked in order to reach their grips. If so, they will suffer the same
numbness and aches after a long ride - it's not the posture so much as the stiff elbows.

If you have ever had your front-end wobble on you after hitting something in the road, or if
that front-end is generally unstable (weak or badly adjusted steering damper), or if you have
ever ridden over 'rain grooves', you know that if your elbows were locked you transmitted the
instability of the front-end to the rest of your bike and made the entire motorcycle unstable.
Drooped elbows absorb all of that instability and leave you in more control of your motorcycle.

You also know that braking causes a load transfer towards the front wheel. With the
phenomenally powerful brakes we have today coupled with the newer tire rubber compounds,
it is now possible for many bikes to literally raise their rear wheel off the ground in a panic
stop. This is called doing a 'stoppie'. Drooped elbows will almost certainly prevent a stoppie
from happening.

Assume that your elbows are locked solid and that your upper body is held in place relative to
the handlebars when you apply the brakes. The momentum of your body transfers load to the
front wheel during the panic stop. Your body, because of the locked elbows, does not move
forward (relative to the rest of the bike) at all.

On the other hand, if your elbows are drooped, your upper body moves forward (bending at
the waist and elbows) during the stop. Any such displacement of your body 'absorbs' the load

transfer and keeps it local - the front wheel does not get immediately loaded (with a shifting of
your upper body weight) as a result.

[Not to put too fine a point on it, but the real difference is in how much and WHEN the load
transfer (from momentum) takes place -- how fast it happens. Rather than exaggerating a
panic stop and dramatically compressing your front springs, your drooped elbows allow a
smaller part of your upper body momentum to be 'felt' in the front-end gradually. For the
purist, the way you determine weight transfer is to calculate the ratio of the height of your
Centre of Gravity (CG) to your wheelbase and multiply that by your braking force. Because
your CG lowers when you lean forward, there is less weight transfer at any given deceleration
rate. See the tip later on entitled Weight Transfer for a complete discussion.]

                                     By James R. Davis

Sometimes we riders tend to minimize the risks we hear about. Take, for example, what every
student of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation has heard about - 'target fixation'. 'Fixating' on
something means not being able to take your attention (your eyes, for example) away from it.
In the case of riding motorcycles, for example, this leads to the phenomena wherein our
motorcycles tend to go in the direction we are looking and is usually described with an
example familiar to all -- that if you see a pothole in the street ahead of you and don't take
your eyes off it you are likely to hit it.

While that is true, it is too trivial an example to get our attention appropriately. We are left with
the opinion that 'target fixation' is of trivial concern because we all know that we can, if we try,
avoid that pothole.

In the case study we talk at great length about the tragic consequences possible from thinking
that target fixation is a trivial problem. You are strongly encouraged to read that case study.
While it is more graphic than most will be comfortable with, I can think of nothing that will
better make the case for respecting the danger of target fixation.

It is insufficient to simply post the advice that you should avoid target fixation. Saying "don't
fixate" is all very well, but once it starts, you need a positive technique to get yourself out in
one piece. So once you are in trouble, use target fixation to save your skin.

Don't look at the oncoming truck/tree/pothole; figure out where you would rather be and fixate
on that instead. In fact, those of you that have taken the MSF classes know that "target
fixation" is an excellent way to control skids - fixate on a point dead ahead on the horizon, and
you'll be well on the way towards automatically correcting most skids.

        REAR wheel does it more often than not
                                     By James R. Davis

"Steer" - To direct the course of.

When your motorcycle is stable in any course, whether in a straight line or in a curve, it is
your rear wheel that is primarily responsible for maintaining that course and stability. Indeed,
it's the job of your front wheel to DESTABILIZE the bike in order to change course. That is,
your front wheel changes course, your rear wheel maintains it.

How is that possible? Well, I suppose it is easiest to think of in terms of influence. A spinning
rear wheel provides gyroscopic stability to over 80% of your motorcycle (including yourself)
because it is directly connected via its axle/swing-arm to the frame of the motorcycle. The
front-end is only indirectly influenced by the spinning rear wheel.

 [Rather a lot of attention has been given to this article in recent days because certain readers
have maintained that if rear-wheel gyroscopic forces are so great it *should* be virtually
impossible to 'flick' a fast moving bike into a lean as you enter a turn. Well, what the
gyroscopic forces generated by a spinning rear wheel does is to try to maintain the direction
of travel of the bike - and, just as with the front wheel, when a change in direction happens
the wheel responds with 'precession' and leans at a 90 degree vector to that change. When
you use counter-steering on the front of the bike to go, for example, to the right, you press the
right grip forward. That causes the direction of travel of the bike to momentarily change to the
LEFT which, in turn, is felt in both the front and rear wheels and the result is that both of them
lean towards the RIGHT. The harder/faster the counter-steer effort is, the greater/faster that
lean will occur. And THAT is why you can 'flick' the bike over onto a significant lean. (i.e., you
are using gyroscopic precession.)]

When a motorcycle is stable it will maintain its current course until an outside influence or
steering input to the front-end results in destabilizing it and a new course is sought that will
once again result in a stable motorcycle.

Proof that the rear wheel is directing the course of your motorcycle is easy to come by. Watch
any motorcycle that is performing a 'wheelie'. Whether it is going in a straight line or it is in a
curve, the motorcycle will continue that course even while the front wheel is off the ground.

The significance of this otherwise esoteric bit of insight should be to cause you to rethink
about locking your brakes. For example, it should now no longer be a surprise that if (while
going straight) you lock your rear brake and cause a skid that the motorcycle does not simply
drag the rear tire along in a straight line - the majority of the motorcycle is deprived of the
stabilizing effect of a spinning rear tire and it will try to fall over to one side or the other. On
the other hand, if you lock your front brake (while going straight) and cause the front tire to
begin to skid, there is every reason to believe that (so long as the rear wheel continues to
spin with some speed and you leave the front wheel pointing straight ahead) the bike will
continue to stand tall and track straight while you correct the problem (by releasing the front
brake lever.)

Indeed, so long as there is meaningful speed and you are moving in a straight line, locking
the front brake (for a brief time) is less dangerous than locking the rear brake. Obviously you

do not want to lock either brake, ever, but it will happen. Further, we all know that we should
not aggressively use either brake while the bike is leaned over in a curve. But now you should
know that it is NEVER reasonable to aggressively use the rear brake, and why.

             May Not Have A Decreasing Radius
                                     By James R. Davis

A decreasing radius turn is dangerous. Such a turn that does not have a decreasing radius is
even more dangerous because it is not obvious.

(Only a 'literalist' should think that a 'decreasing radius curve' necessarily involves a
decreasing radius.)

The problem with a decreasing radius turn is that you can find yourself going too fast to exit it
safely even though you were not going too fast for the first part of the curve. That is, unlike a
constant radius turn, there is not one smooth line through this kind of curve which has a single
apex to it that allows you to pick a single stable lean/speed through it.

How can a decreasing radius turn not have a decreasing radius? Simple. There are three
scenarios that individually or combined result in a curve that must be treated as if it is
decreasing radius:

   The early part of the curve provides a more positive camber (leans inward) than
   does the latter part of the curve.
   There is a rising elevation in the early part of the curve and a falling elevation
   towards its end.
   The traction in the early part of the curve is better than towards the end.

Though each of the curves described above has a constant radius, they must be treated in
the same way as a decreasing radius curve in order to negotiate them safely.

So, what this should tell you is that on any unfamiliar road you should avoid trying to take the
curves as fast as they look to be. Further, you are well advised to always plan to exit a curve
some distance away from its outside edge - this, so that you have some ability to 'overshoot'
your line WHEN the unexpected happens.

   Their Real Job Is NOT To Stop - it is to SLOW
                      the bike
                                     By James R. Davis

For some reason most motorcyclists seem to think that the job of brakes is to stop their
motorcycles. Wrong!

If all the brakes had to do was stop you then all they would have to do is lock your wheels
when you applied them - clearly not an optimum use of their enormous power. Indeed, from a
safety point of view more often than not your challenge when using your brakes, particularly
the rear brake, is to prevent the wheel from stopping (locking)!

By far the most important job of your brakes is to SLOW you down. In other words, your
brakes are a negative accelerator. Unlike your throttle, you can vary your speed all the way
from the bike's top speed to zero without having to shift gears - in less time than it took to get
from zero to that top speed. This demonstrates pretty easily that they are far more powerful
than your engine. Yet if used properly, they can be just as subtle in controlling speed as your
throttle and clutch lever combined.

Since you can generate nearly 100% of your stopping power with the front brake on almost
any contemporary motorcycle (meaning that you can reduce traction of the rear wheel to zero
via load shifting), there is a pretty strong argument that can be made that you should focus
your entire braking attention to the task of using it and ignoring the fact that you even have a
rear brake. I would not go that far, however.

   The use of both brakes together will invariably slow you down more quickly than
   using just one of them.
   The use of both brakes together results in LESS weight transfer than does using just
   the front one. (Assuming equal total braking force applied.)
   Use of both brakes tends to lengthen the life of your front brakes.
   If you need to stop or slow down on slick or gravel surfaces, the rear brake is just
   the ticket (in combination with a very gentle hand on the front one.)
   If you are going less than 20 MPH then both brakes are effective (and relatively
   In very slow manoeuvres, the use of the rear brake alone often provides added
   stability and control of your motorcycle.

The most dangerous control you have on your motorcycle is your rear brake! This, because it
is easy to STOP (your rear wheel) with it. A spinning rear wheel is what provides the majority
of your bike's stability. The gyroscopic effect of a spinning rear wheel is imposed on the frame
of the motorcycle and determines the attitude/stability of the entire bike except for its relatively
insignificant front-end. To lock the rear wheel is, by definition, to remove the majority of your
attitude control and stability.

For this reason I am amazed that the MSF continues to provide a field exercise (‘controlling a
rear wheel skid') to its students that invites them to harshly activate their rear brake only and

skid to a stop. [Any bike that has integrated braking in any form is not required to do this
exercise at all.] Surviving a rear brake lock at the modest speeds used in the exercise (less
than 20 MPH) may well lead some students to the mistaken conclusion that they can recover
from same at any speed. Still, the MSF goes out of its way to tell their students that use of the
rear brake only is NOT a normal or recommended stopping procedure - but they fail to explain
why not.

Yet another exercise they have the students perform is to stop (without locking the wheel) by
using only their rear brake. This is one of three exercises designed to demonstrate that the
use of both brakes at the same time is more efficient than using either one alone. It would be
entirely sufficient to show how using both brakes together is more efficient than using the front
brake alone. The first part of the exercise, which has the students apply their rear brakes only
(but not so aggressively that they lock them), is simply too easy for a newbie to
misunderstand to be just one more reasonable habit to develop - after all, "the MSF showed
us how to do it."

During a panic situation your attention must be directed to the aggressive use of your front
brake and at that time heavy application of the rear brake will almost certainly result in loss of

There is NEVER a time while riding a motorcycle that harsh use of the rear brake is anything
but dangerous and wrong-headed.

And while harsh use of the rear brake, ever, is dangerous, there is one thing that is dumber
still - using your engine to 'assist' during a panic stop. Your engine is NOT A BRAKE! Further,
it only affects the rear wheel which we have already seen is easily stopped (locked) with even
modest rear brake usage by itself. (In other words, during a panic stop situation you want your
clutch lever pulled all the way to the grip. In no way is this to be taken as a suggestion not to
use normal engine braking resulting from throttle roll-off.)

Use of the rear brake requires a gentle, controlled touch - EVERY TIME!

Help your fellow riders by thinking ahead, being
                                    By Elaine Anthony

After an accident, the people you ride with want to be useful. They will feel helpless enough if
they aren't medical professionals with adequate gear to start making a difference, for in
serious accidents, first aid seems superficially valuable or is even impossible to render. If they
have access to communications and to important information, however, they can still help
save your life. In light of Karen Miller's accident last November, here are some tips I gleaned
from dealing with an emergency situation. The first four are offered to enable your fellow
riders to help you immediately, the rest over the longer term.

   Carry a cellular phone when you ride, if possible. If you don't have one, ask who in
   the group has one and where on the bike it is kept.
   Carry legible ID and keep it current. If you've moved since your driver's license was
   issued, you can get a ticket for failing to update it -- as well as cause confusion
   about such basics as "where does she live?" Check or sign the organ donor box on
   it, if you would want to donate in a worst-case scenario.
   Carry a list of medications you take routinely and keep it current. List allergies or
   medical conditions that EMS techs/doctors need to know about to treat you.
   Carry a list of persons to contact and their current telephone numbers, including
   area codes. If those living with you are likely to be hard to reach, or you live alone,
   friends who ride with you should be able to figure out easily who to call from
   information on your bike or your person. (Even if they can gain access to your home
   by taking your keys from the scene, it doesn't mean they can find your address
   book.) Karen had thought to carry names and telephone numbers of relatives and
   friends with her, which saved her fellow riders a lot of stress after Life Flight left,
   when they started the notification process.

Hospital and emergency personnel will presume that an unconscious person has given them
consent to save his or her life. But even when a rider has a close family member who can
legally take over subsequent medical decisions (as far as the hospital's lawyers are
concerned), your fellow LSL members may still be uncertain about which family member
should be given your valuables, your keys, your jewellery, and access to your home --
especially if the family members argue about it when they get together to meet the witnesses
and pick these items up.

It is unfortunately only a cheerful fiction that all of a downed rider's brothers and sisters and
in-laws will be getting along splendidly the week that an accident happens -- not to mention
the new lover and the ex-spouse. Would you want your cousin who's on parole rummaging
through your mail while you're laid up? If you have no skeletons in your closet of relatives, you
can ignore these suggestions. But for many of us, there are some troublesome realities
among our relatives. So, for the longer term...

   Have a durable Power of Attorney prepared appointing someone close to you to be
   in charge of your business and legal affairs, in writing. "Durable" means the person
   designated can act for you even if you could not act for yourself (i.e., if you were
   unconscious, or sedated for a long time). This is not a "form" document that you
   can buy, but it is usually inexpensive to have it prepared. "Close" means living in
   your area as well as close by relationship: if someone is making decisions critical to
   your well-being, he or she will be better informed after talking to your doctors face
   to face, if possible.
   If you have given someone verbal authority to act for you in an emergency, do not
   leave written authority appointing someone else. Revoke conflicting Powers of
   Attorney and have a correct one prepared. Then tell someone who rides with you
   whom you designated! If you don't want to discuss this every time you go out, put a
   copy of the durable Power of Attorney with the list of phone numbers on your bike,
   or leave it with someone who is on that list of persons to notify in case of an

If you're riding with someone who goes down and are helping at an accident scene, get the
name of the investigating officer in charge and find out where the vehicles are going and
where the accident report will be. Take photos if you can. Retrieve the rider's ID, insurance
card and personal items from the bike and protect them. Find the lists of phone numbers and
medications as soon as possible.

Riders who witness a serious accident will be somewhat in shock even if they were uninjured.
If you are managing an accident scene where a friend has been hurt, let bystanders help you
as well as your friend, if they can. Don't rush to get to the hospital once your injured friend has

been removed. Take time to collect yourself before riding again. Have a drink of water (shock
can make you dry-mouthed), and try to remember to thank the emergency personnel and any
bystanders who helped you, before you leave.

                            Rubber Band Effect
                                    By James R. Davis

While most of us know that it takes about 1 second to recognize and begin to react to a threat
ahead of us, it usually takes from 2 to 3 seconds for riders to recognize and begins to react to
a change in speed (increase) of the bike in front of them when they are riding in a group.

A couple of seconds doesn't sound like much, I'm sure, but while at 2 seconds a small group
of bikes can usually manage rather well, at 3 seconds some serious problems result. This is
particularly true if there are more than six bikes in the group.

The following, I hope, will convince those of you that lead group rides to behave with new

At 60 MPH your bike moves 88 feet per second. Assuming that you maintain a 1-second gap
between bikes in the group then each is about 88 feet behind the next one. At 70 MPH the
gaps would be about 103 feet.

A trivial example first - let's say that the lead bike increases speed from 60 MPH to 70 MPH. It
takes about 2 seconds to do so if you are casual about it (using an acceleration rate of 7.5
fps/s) though you could do it in half that time. What happens to all the bikes behind that lead

Most people, I assume, think that each will, in turn, simply follow suit. That is, each will also
accelerate modestly at the rate of about 7.5 fps/s (5 MPH/Sec) and, thus, maintain 'the group'.
That is not at all what actually happens.

After the first second of modest acceleration by the lead bike the distance between the
second bike and the first one has grown from 88 feet to 92 feet and one second later the gap
has become 103 feet. By coincidence this is exactly what the new distance between bikes
should be while riding at 70 MPH. However, the second bike has not yet even begun to
accelerate and is now moving 10 MPH slower than the bike ahead of it.

It follows, of course, that the gap between the bikes will continue to grow until the second bike
is also moving at 70 MPH - 2 or 3 seconds later.

That is, if the second bike realizes that the first one is pulling away from him and begins to
accelerate his own bike within only 2 seconds then he too will be travelling at 70 MPH within
another 2 seconds. If it takes him 3 seconds to recognize a widening gap and react to it then
it will take another 2 seconds for his speed to match the bike ahead of him.

In the best case (2 second react/respond time) the gap between the bikes will have grown to
117 feet, and if it took 3 seconds that gap would have grown to 132 feet.

Clearly once the speeds are the same the gaps will remain the same. BUT, since the group
prefers to travel with a 'one second' gap between bikes, the second bike MUST GO FASTER
than the first one for a brief time in order to 'catch up.'

If we assume that the riders in this group are conservative and individually elect never to
travel more than 5 MPH faster than the bike ahead of them as they are closing their gaps then
the second bike will continue to accelerate for 1 additional second and attain a speed of 75
MPH while the first one continues at 70 MPH.

In fact, the second bike will have to ride for TWO SECONDS at 75 MPH while the first one
rides at 70 MPH in order to close the gap to 106 feet, and then he takes 1 more second
decelerating to 70 MPH during which the gap between them reduces itself to the desired 103

This little example of the dynamics between just two bikes is trivial in consequence and easy
to understand. With modest effort it can be seen, however, to be anything but trivial farther
back in the pack.

Let's look at the third bike in the group. About 2 seconds after the SECOND bike begins to
accelerate the third one follows suit. Three seconds later the gap between the second and
third bike has, as expected, become 117 feet. But, because the second bike is travelling at 75
MPH at that time rather than 70 MPH like the first bike, the gap continues to widen and within
one more second becomes 128 feet. Clearly the third bike must use more effort to catch up to
the second bike than the second bike needed to catch up with the lead bike. Indeed, the third
bike will have to accelerate to 75 MPH and will have to maintain that speed for FOUR
SECONDS instead of the two required by the second bike in order to close up that gap.

WORSE, the next bike will find that the gap he has to close has grown to 132 feet before it
begins to shorten and then ONLY IF HE ACCELERATES TO 80 MPH instead of 75. This,
because the third bike is travelling at 75 MPH rather than 70 MPH when the gap has reached
132 feet. The gap would be larger still if bike number four merely accelerates to 75 MPH.

In a group of only six motorcycles, the last one will find the gap between himself and bike
number five to grow to 143 feet before it begins to close. He will have to accelerate to 80
MPH, hold that speed for three seconds, drop to 75 MPH for an additional three seconds, and
then finally drop to the group speed of 70 MPH in order for all members of the group to end
up with a 1-second gap between them.

Further, it will be at least 11 seconds after the lead bike has started to accelerate before the
sixth bike does so. Imagine what will happen if during that time the lead bike applies his
brakes in anticipation of entering a curve!!!!!!!!!

Though this was a trivial example it demonstrates very well what we have all experienced in
the past - the 'rubber band' effect.

Imagine how PROFOUND this effect becomes when the example changes. For example,
imagine what happens at the end of a string of 20 bikes rather than only 6. Or what happens if
the lead bike, upon exiting a 35 MPH curve, gooses his bike to 60 MPH as fast as it can get

There are things that tend to mitigate these problems:

   Lead bikes can change speed more gradually.

   Lead bikes can announce speed changes over the CB and, thus, reduce reaction
   times for all.
   All bikes in a group can react to changes in speed of bikes that are farther ahead of
   them than just the one immediately ahead.
   The members of a group can simply NOT crank their throttles up to excessive
   speeds just to keep the group spacing 'correct'.
   A good group leader does NOT accelerate within 15 seconds of entering a curve
   (assuming he has to then slow down before actually entering that curve.)
   The '1-second between bikes' rule should be abandoned whenever the group is
   riding 'twisties' - it makes sense only when travelling in a straight line on open
   Never allow a group to become larger than SIX bikes if even one of the riders is
   inexperienced with group riding. Never larger than EIGHT bikes even if all are
   familiar with the riding habits of each other.

If you think that the 'rubber band' effect is a problem when accelerating think of what happens
during braking!!

                                    By James R. Davis

The tank is running low so you pull into a service station next to a pump. Down goes the
kickstand. The next few things you do could save your life.

   Turn off your motor

If gasoline were to spill as you bring the nozzle to the tank or as a result of overflow or as you
take the nozzle out of the tank, you risk setting it ablaze. You should be concerned not just
about a hot engine or exhaust pipes, but also any electrical system.

   Take your helmet off

If your helmet is on you cannot determine if a fire has started as easily as you can without it
and, particularly if the helmet is attached to the bike with an audio system cord, you cannot
evacuate the area quickly should a fire be detected.

   Get OFF your motorcycle

For some reason this step seems to be ignored more often than any other. Maybe it 'looks'
good. Maybe it's just too much work to get off when you're tired. Whatever, putting fuel into

your tank while you're straddling the bike is dangerous! If there is a gasoline spill your crotch
will get wet. Then what do you do?

   Fill the tank, but not to the top

Gasoline expands as it warms up. Some gas tanks are not sealed units and if you fill them to
the top they can easily leak. Some motorcycles have dual (side-by-side) tanks that are
connected internally. There is a 'secret' you should know about filling these bikes - when
putting gasoline into the higher tank WATCH the level in the lower one. Since you are on your
side stand the bike is leaning and overflow from the higher tank will go to the lower one.
Obviously, with this kind of system you cannot fill the highest tank without overfilling the lower
one. This is one reason why owners of these bikes tend to sit on them when they fill up - to
keep the bike vertical so they can load as much gasoline as possible. But it's obvious why you
shouldn't do so (odds are good you will stop and put your side stand down before you have
burned up enough gasoline to prevent leakage.)

   Do not smoke within 20 feet of a gas pump
   Keep your ignition switch in the OFF position any time your filler cap is off your
   tank. (Especially do not use your CB.)

Earlier I asked what you would do if gasoline spilled onto your crotch. Actually, I should have
asked what you would do if it spilled on any part of you or your clothes. This is so important I
will offer my own suggestions at this point.

   DRENCH with water!
   THEN take that article of clothing OFF!!

Static electricity can easily ignite gasoline fumes.

Allow wet clothes to dry OUTSIDE. If you happen to be at home, DO NOT PUT THESE

If you can smell gasoline on them there is enough to ignite.

                Not The Same As 'Slow Steering'
                                     By James R. Davis

In a previous Tip entitled Counter-steering I spent a lot of time talking about the design of the
front-end of your motorcycle in an effort to explain how counter-steering works. One of the
concepts I put forward was that of steering 'slowness' caused by having trail. Apparently
some of the readers concluded that 'slow' steering was the same as 'under-steer'. Not at all.

Whether the vehicle has two wheels or more, under-steer means that the vehicle's front tire(s)
will break away (slide) before the rear tire(s) do during a turn. Over-steer, then, is just the
opposite and is a design that tends to result in the vehicle's rear tire(s) breaking away first.

[Despite what I just said above, there is a more formal definition of over- and under-steer that
describes how a vehicle behaves in a curve as determined by the slip angles of the front and
rear tires. That is, if the slip angle of the rear tire(s) of a vehicle is different than that of the
front, the vehicle will rotate from this phenomenon alone. If the rear slip angle is greater than
the front, the vehicle is said to over-steer. If less, it under-steers.]

'Under' and 'Over' refers to how the vehicle will track the desired turn when either the front or
rear wheel(s) begin to slide. For example, in an OVER-steer situation the rear breaks away
first. The vehicle then OVER rotates in the direction of the turn.

You might think that it would be better to have a motorcycle designed and setup so that there
is neither over-steer nor under-steer so that you could take a turn as hard as possible without
worrying about which tire broke free first. I don't think so. I'm sure you would agree that given
a choice you would want your rear tire to slide before the front one. In other words, you
WANT a certain 'over-steer' built into the design of your motorcycle. [Over-steering from slip
angle differences results in the feeling of a modest drift into a turn. This, to most
motorcyclists, is mildly reassuring and preferred to the same modest drift out of a curve that
under-steering provides.]

But then you notice that your rear tire has a greater contact patch than does the front (at least
when riding vertically.) You might assume that because of this it has a higher Coefficient of
Friction with the road than does the front and that this should automatically result in under-
steering. Again, not true.

Indeed, the front tire MUST develop more forces than the rear one in order to destabilize the
motorcycle and cause it to change direction. (In another article you will find that the rear tire
actually STEERS the bike when it is stable. Honest!) Thus, something more is at work than
merely the size of the contact patch, the rubber compounds used, tread patterns, and flex of
our tires that determine whether a vehicle over- or under-steers. Your front fork system (rake,
trail, offset), weight transfer, rear-wheel drive and tire camber also play a part. (There should
no longer be a question of why your rear tire has a flatter surface than does the front one - tire
camber thrust is not as great.)

In summary:

   Your bike is designed such that it has over-steer (the rear wheel tends to break
   away before the front one does in a turn, and the slip angle is greater on the rear tire
   than on the front tire.)
   The rear tire contact patch is wider because the surface is flatter than your front tire
   and this results in reduced tire camber thrust. Further, part of the rear tire's traction
   is consumed with acceleration. The result, a tendency to over-steer - particularly
   when accelerating. (Interestingly, unlike with motorcycles, over-throttle in a curve
   with most cars tends to cause under-steer.)
   Slow steering is a result of steering geometry and is NOT the same thing as 'under-

               Often make good 'riding buddies'
                                    By James R. Davis

When I was on jury duty a few months ago I had occasion to spend a lot of hours with a
trucker who explained to me many of the things that I have always been curious about. Not
the least surprising of which, considering the setting, was how many truckers manage to
accumulate far more miles in their rigs than the law allows with the illegal use of a second set
of log books. (The message here is clear - many truckers out there are TIRED - morning,
noon, or night.)

[I have only been inside the cab of an 18-wheeler once in my life, when I was a kid. The driver
had allowed me to ride with him between LA and Monterey along the California coast. I could
not believe how hard it had been for him to drive that rig - it had a 'brownie' (second shift-
lever) that he managed by looping his arm through the steering-wheel. Well, technology has
come a long way in long-haulers and brownies are a thing of the past. But the driver's job
remains a tough one, and motorcycles often just add one more worry for them to have to deal

This trucker that I mentioned above claimed that two-wheelers, particularly those driven by
women, (though they often get 'cat-calls' from his friends), are actually held in high regard by
truckers - especially if they seem to know what they are doing. Motorcyclists, he said, are
smart to keep their distance from the trucks. He said that though retreads have been banned
from automobiles for many years, there are still trucks that ride on them and if one should
blow the energy released is roughly equivalent to a stick of dynamite. A motorcycle that
happens to be nearby would not stand a chance.

And though it is not possible to completely avoid riding on one side or the other of an 18-
wheeler, he said, a smart motorcyclist would not linger there and would pass as soon as they
could. He also said that motorcyclists that pass a truck only to then pull in front of it are
smarter still if they do not pull in too quickly. He described a nightmare accident he once had
where a small Toyota had pulled in front of him on the open highway then hit its brakes. He
was hauling a load of steel rebars and there was absolutely no way he could even slow down
before running over that car. Mass and inertia have their own rules.

As to motorcyclists in general, he said that he was no longer surprised at the number of times
he would say something about a 'good looking bike' on the road near him to another trucker in
the distance only to have that biker thank him with his CB. This, because he has come to
understand that most touring bikes have CB radios and that they seem to have realized that
truckers can make good 'riding buddies' when the motorcyclist is riding solo. He described
dozens of times riding 'escort' for a solo biker, and sharing a meal with a few of them along
his way. That they invariably talked about their bikes (and he about his rig) while eating and
how impressed he had been that they were really 'into' and knowledgeable about what they
(the bikers) were doing.

I thought I would post this here because we often hear bikers describe 18-wheelers in rather
nasty ways - like they were generically dumb, illiterate, drunk, mean, and dangerous. Truth is
they are just people with a hard job and they are on the roads with people that do not have

sufficient respect for how much time it takes to slow/stop those rigs so are constantly put in
risky situations as a result.

My experience with truckers has been almost universally good. Hope this little Tip causes a
few readers to re-think their attitudes about them. A trucker can be a life-saver in time of
need. Why not maximize the odds?

                          And surviving the effort
                                      By James R. Davis

Sooner or later you will find something in the road just ahead of you and you are going to hit
it. Maybe a small animal. Possibly something that falls off of the vehicle in front of you. Maybe
you have missed a curve and a curb is dead ahead.

One of the exercises taught by the MSF includes running over a board (4x4?) and you are
told to 'lift' the front-end of your motorcycle at the last possible moment before you hit. I
suspect that most of us could actually 'lift' the front-end of a little 125cc motorcycle, but I can
tell you that this is one reasonably strong male that couldn't raise the front-end of my
GoldWing a meaningful fraction of an inch, from my seat, and neither can you. What's the
point of the exercise, then?

Maybe it was just badly explained in my particular class, but I'm sure that what the instructor
said was that you are trying to 'help' the bike over the obstacle by lifting it. While that is
correct, both the explanation and the exercise fell as short of the mark as did my ability to lift
the Wing.

Remember our discussion about shock absorbers? It was learned that bumps are first
absorbed by your springs and that your front-end rises and falls as allowed by how the shock
absorber/spring set are designed and setup. If you are travelling at a steady speed your front-
end is extended about as far as it will normally be extended and your ability to 'lift' it further is
a function of how much weight you can remove from it, not how strong you are. That 'for every
action there is an equal and opposite reaction' tells you that if you are able to exert 200
pounds of lift on your grips you will put the same amount of new 'weight' on the seat and pegs
while you do it. So, even if you try to 'snap' lift the front while throwing as much of your body
towards the rear of your bike as possible, the result will be a TRIVIAL difference in the
extension of your front forks. i.e., virtually a waste of time and energy.

Still, the idea is RIGHT! But instead of you doing the lifting, you want the bike to lift itself by
transferring its weight from the front to the rear wheel.

You already know that this happens naturally as a result of acceleration. So, the way you lift
the front end without suffering a hernia is to twist your wrist and open the throttle.

But you will remember that your front-end is already almost fully extended to start with.
Wouldn't it be nice if you could get a whole lot more extension just before you hit that object?
Well, of course the fact is that the only way to do that is if the front-end was more heavily
loaded (compressed) before you started to accelerate. And how do you get the front-end to
be more loaded? Why you hit the brakes, of course.

In other words, in the real world if you see that you are going to hit something you will
naturally apply your brakes in an effort to slow down before you do so. Isn't that fortunate?
For in order to maintain as much control of your bike as possible WHEN you hit it all you have
to do is roll-on the throttle at the very last moment (about 1/2 second will do very nicely.) This
will result in a weight shift from front to rear, and allows the springs in your shock absorber
system to extend. Thus, as you hit the object you have maximum shock absorbing capacity,
just when you need it. (Don't forget to shift your weight to your pegs and get that butt off the
seat when you do this since when the rear tire hits the obstacle it will receive a severe vertical

[I suppose it is obvious, but since you are going to experience a vertical jarring of the bike and
you are going to be lifting your butt off your seat just before that happens, you will want to
have all of your fingers wrapped around your grips at the time - not covering any levers.]

But why not just stay on the brakes all the way, you ask? At the very least this will insure that
you hit the object with the minimum of speed possible. What's wrong with that?

The shock absorber system is compressed almost as far as it will go during hard braking.
That means there is essentially no more travel left to absorb the bump. That, in turn, means
that you will FEEL and be affected by that bump - just as if you didn't have any shock
absorber at all. You will remember that this means that the entire bike will rise and fall at least
as much as the height of what you hit because it is no longer 'sprung weight'. And it is just
such bike motion which usually translates into loss of control!

Another, but equally important reason you do not want to have your brakes maximally applied
at the time you hit the object is that you are then at, or past, the point of a skid. When you hit
you will certainly pass that point and end up in a skid. It takes only a fraction of a second of
front tire skid to totally lose control of your motorcycle. If you happened to be going is a
straight line when you start a skid, your chance of recovering and not going down is actually
pretty good. But if the skid is the result of your front-end being lifted off the ground because of
hitting something, the odds that it will come down with the front wheel pointing straight ahead
is not very good at all.

The third reason you do not want to be braking when you hit is that the object may well be
alive and your tires will act like erasers as they go over it. Indeed, the 'object' you hit might
even have been human (before you 'erased' it.)

Five things to do if you are going to run over something:

   Use maximum braking in an effort to stop before you hit it.

   Wrap all of your fingers around your grips - do not 'cover' any levers

   Roll-on your throttle starting about 1/2 second before the impact and shift your
   weight onto your feet.

   Roll-off your throttle right after the front tire surmounts the obstacle (shifts weight to

   front and lengthens the rear shocks).

   Control stop (if you want to) after BOTH tires return to the ground.

                                    By James R. Davis

In my nearly 40 years of riding I can honestly say that only a handful of negative experiences
have occurred while I have ridden in groups. Very soon after the first instance of unsafe
practices around me which seems to be generally tolerated by the others in the group I
announce that I 'must' leave, and do so. This happened most recently about a year ago when
my passenger (Elaine) and I joined a ride in Houston hosted by a group we had not ridden
with before and found that it was a free-for-all in terms of style and lack of discipline. At the
first rest stop we announced that we had to leave (politely) and then left.

Similarly, we have joined a group ride with a local chapter of the GWRRA and left it half-way
to the destination after experiencing 90 MPH curves which were apparently 'normal' for them,
regardless of the unknown skill levels of everyone in the group. (This is extremely unlike the
riding habits of any other GWRRA chapter we have ridden with either before or since.)

Perhaps it's just pride in how we do things in our group rides - or simply that we don't want to
'own' any responsibility for the loss of or injury to anybody that rides with us. And because of
this we know that there are plenty of people that would find our style of group riding to be too
'confining' or of insufficient 'excitement' for them. But we are proud of the way we handle
group rides and want to share 'our way' with the readers here.

The vast majority of our rides are planned by Elaine (as Road Captain) and I ride drag.
(Nobody has ever complained that we fail to husband our flock.) It seems to us that our 'job' is
to do everything possible to make the experience on the roads as safe and pleasant for
everybody in the group so long as they are together. When the group splits apart at the end of
a ride our responsibilities end, of course, but even then it is not unusual to place a phone call
or two when we get to our places to insure that everyone made it to their homes safely -
particularly in bad weather or if someone had mechanical problems along the ride (in which
case one or both of us might even escort that bike all the way to their home.)

We ride to the level of the least experienced/skilled in the group. We insist on discipline and
hand signals being relayed and pit stops about every 75 miles.

We believe that you cannot enjoy tomorrow's ride unless you live through today's. And we
believe it is the responsibility of each person in the group to insure that everyone does just

Nobody is allowed to leave the group without the drag bike knowing about it and, in the case
of relatively inexperienced riders, offering to ride escort for them. Nobody other than the

person designated by our road captain is ALLOWED to ride 'last' for any reason whatever.
Among other things, this insures that we never lose anyone or leave a straggler
unintentionally at a rest stop. Most importantly, this insures that the Road Captain has eyes at
the rear of the pack and can be kept appraised about how the group is doing (speed-wise,
cornering ability, etc.) in order to make adjustments in behalf of the group.

I confess that there have been a couple of the women that have felt that we do not travel as
fast as they would like - and they have left us. Good for all concerned. But never in the middle
of a ride!

The Houston chapter of the Lone Star Ladies has been called the 'Cook and Sew' group by
some of the other women's riding groups in town who prefer going icehouse to icehouse. We
think that is a compliment.

Prior to any ride we host a "rider's meeting" during which we:

  Review where we are going and what route we will be taking
  Describe how we handle lane changing and what to do if the group splits apart
  Specify which channel on the CB we will be using and that we ALL WILL USE hand-
  signals as well
  Demonstrate and explain each hand-signal we use
  Determine the riding experience of everyone that is new to the group
  Assign (to new people only) 'SLOT' positions that they are to ride in until the drag
  bike is satisfied with their abilities to handle their bikes
  Invite all the riders to do a 'walk around' their bikes to insure all is in order and then
  to take a quick look at the bikes on either side of them for the same reason

As a result, there is no doubt who the Road Captain is and what her expectations are of the
group. Authority is established and 'agreed to' by virtue of the participants getting into
staggered formation.

Granted, our style of group riding and our practices are not for everyone, but those that join
us are well cared for, and know it.

                   "He Didn't See Me" Problems
                                    By James R. Davis

I can't tell you how many times I've heard that most motorcycle accidents are the result of
someone turning left into them from oncoming traffic. That apparently wide-spread belief has
never felt right to me based on my own half a million miles on the road, and it clearly smacks
of an attempt to rationalize responsibility away from the motorcyclist.

I have included the complete text of a July 1994 report issued from the Insurance Institute for
Highway Safety at the end of this Tip because I could not find a URL to let you link to it
yourself. [I found a URL to it after I created this tip: here.] In summary, however, it makes the
following points:

   Running off the road, usually in a curve, often involving alcohol, and almost always
   a 'single vehicle' accident accounted for a stunning 41 percent of the total
   motorcycle fatalities. This is more than twice the percentage of any other cause.
   The running of a traffic signal in an intersection, most often a stop sign and most
   often by the other vehicle, accounted for 18 percent of the total accidents.
   Oncoming, head-on crashes accounted for 11 percent of the total. Very few of these
   were in intersections and a few were on divided roads. About half were on straight
   roads and the other half on curves. 58 percent of all these crashes were attributed to
   the motorcycle rider's failure to stay in lane or using excessive speed.
   Left-turn oncoming crashes, as with the oncoming crash type described above,
   involve vehicles travelling in opposite directions. However, for this crash type, one
   of the vehicles is in the process of making a left-turn in front of oncoming traffic.
   This was the fourth most common crash type accounting for only 8 percent of the
   total. The left-turn was almost always being made by the other vehicle and not the
   motorcycle. That is, the motorcycle almost always had the superior right of way.
   This crash often occurred at intersections (69 percent) or at driveways and alleys (7
   "Motorcycle down", meaning the motorcyclist loses control of the bike (including
   deliberately 'dumping' it) and it goes down on the roadway, accounted for another 7
   percent of the total. These usually occurred on dry, level, and straight roads.

These five categories account for about 86 percent of all the fatalities looked at. "He didn't
see me" excuses could only be used in about half the 'running traffic signal' and 'oncoming'
situations as well as most of those categorized as 'left-turns'. In other words, no more than
about 20 percent of all these fatalities involved a second vehicle that could have claimed not
to see the motorcyclist. That's a long way from 'most'.

Further, while the report goes on to make some suggestions about how to reduce these
accidents, it does not read like the writings of a motorcycle rider. To suggest that an important
possible countermeasure is to 'avoid excessive speed when entering an intersection' pales in
comparison to simply insuring that another vehicle is on your right side as you enter
intersections, for example.

Following is the full text of the cited article:

Analysis of Fatal Motorcycle Crashes: Crash Typing from FARS Data by David Preusser, et al
(Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 1005 N Glebe Road, Arlington, VA 22201; ph 703-
247-1500) (July 1994) [HE 5616.5 .P7]

Motorcycles, which are a small subset of all motor vehicles, are greatly overrepresented in
fatal crashes in the United States. The death rate per registered motorcycle (59 per 100,000)
is more than three times the death rate per registered passenger car (17 per 100,000). Death
rates calculated per vehicle, however, do not take into account the substantially lower mileage
travelled by motorcycles. Per mile travelled, the death rate for motorcycles is estimated to be
22 times higher than the comparable death rate for passenger cars.

In 1992 there were 2,074 motorcycle crashes. These were grouped into 11 crash type
categories: 10 defined crash types plus one category for other and unknown. The most
frequently occurring crash type was ran off-road, followed by ran traffic control, oncoming
(i.e., head-on), left-turn oncoming, and motorcyclist down. Taken together, these five most
frequent types accounted for 86 percent of the 2,074 crashes.

Ran off-road crashes involve situations where the motorcyclist leaves the roadway and
overturns or strikes some off-road object. This is the most frequently occurring motorcycle
crash type accounting for 41 percent of the total. These are often late night, weekend crashes
involving a motorcyclist who had been drinking. Off-road objects struck include: culvert, curb,
or ditch (24 percent of the 857 crashes); posts and poles (11 percent); trees (10 percent); and
guardrails (10 percent). This crash type, unlike the other crash types, most often occurs on a
curve in the road (71 percent at curves versus 21 percent for all other crashes). Most are
single-vehicle crashes though occasionally the motorcycle, the driver, or debris returns to the
roadway and some other vehicle becomes involved.

Ran traffic control crashes occur when one vehicle with an obligation to stop, remain stopped,
or yield, fails to do so and thus collides with some other vehicle. This was the second most
frequently occurring motorcycle crash type accounting for 18 percent (375) of the total. Most
occurred at intersections (72 percent), driveways and alleys (7 percent), or interchanges (4
percent). The traffic control device was most often a stop sign (39 percent) or traffic control
signal (18 percent). Nearly all (97 percent) were "angle" collisions. Of the 375 events, 341
involved just one motorcycle plus one other vehicle. Within the FARS coding system,
variables are defined and coded for driver and occupant factors as well as for the crash and
vehicle. Analysis of these 341 crashes indicated that it was the driver of the other vehicle, not
the motorcyclist, who was most often assigned the FARS driver factor "failed to yield" (146
versus 63). That is, in many cases, the motorcycle had the superior right of way. The driver
factor most often assigned to the motorcycle was "excessive speed" (80 versus 4) indicating,
at least in some of these cases, that the motorcycle was approaching the intersection at a
high rate of speed making it difficult for the other motorist to detect the motorcycle in time.

Oncoming, or head-on crashes involve a collision between two vehicles travelling in opposite
directions. This was the third most common motorcycle crash type accounting for 11 percent
(225) of the total. Few of these crashes occurred at intersections (5 percent versus 25 percent
for all other cash types) and few occurred on divided highways (7 percent versus 25 percent).
About half occurred on straight roadways and half occurred on curves. Driver factors, typically
failure to remain in established lane and/or excessive speed, were most often assigned to the
motorcycle (158 versus 58).

Left-turn oncoming crashes, as with the oncoming crash type described above, involve
vehicles travelling in opposite directions. However, for this crash type, one of the vehicles is in
the process of making a left-turn in front of oncoming traffic. This was the fourth most
common crash type accounting for 8 percent (176) of the total. The left-turn was almost
always being made by the other vehicle and not the motorcycle (175 of 176 events). That is,
the motorcycle almost always had the superior right of way. This crash often occurred at
intersections (69 percent) or at driveways and alleys (7 percent).

Motorcyclist down crashes cover situations where the motorcyclist loses control of the vehicle
and goes down in the roadway. The motorcycles could have struck something in the roadway
or have been struck by some other vehicle after going down. This was the fifth most common
crash type accounting for 7 percent (152) of the total. Generally, it could not be determined
why the motorcycle went down. The "loss of control" could have been a deliberate action on
the part of the motorcyclist (i.e., putting the bike down) to avoid some perceived threat ahead.
The crashes occurred on dry (93 percent) level (73 percent) roadways that were straight (56
percent) or curved (43 percent).

The most important finding in the present study was that five defined crash types accounted
for 86 percent of all of the motorcycle crash events studied. Two of these types, ran off-road
and oncoming, are predominantly the result of one or more errors (i.e., FARS driver factors)
on the part of the motorcyclist. Both typically involve a motorcyclist who leaves the
appropriate travel lane(s) either running off the road or colliding with a vehicle coming from
the opposite direction. Both tend to occur more frequently in rural areas, on higher speed
roadways and at curves. Ran off-road crashes are very often alcohol related.
Countermeasures designed to promote helmet use and reduce drinking and driving, and
excessive speed, would be appropriate.

Ran traffic control and left turn oncoming involve an interaction between the motorcyclist and
one or more other drivers. Unlike ran off-road and oncoming crashes, they occur more often
at intersections, on lower speed roadways, in urban areas, during times of the day when more
traffic would be expected, and less often are alcohol related. Typically, the motorcyclist has
the superior right of way just prior to the crash, and some other vehicle fails to grant this right
of way moving into the path of the motorcycle.

Possible countermeasures include improved signal timing, enforcement of stop and yield
obligations, and improved sight distances at intersections particularly in cases where the
smaller motorcycle may remain blocked from view long after larger vehicles have become
visible. Motorcycle drivers can reduce their chances of becoming involved in these two crash
types by maintaining lane discipline (not popping out from some unexpected location).
Wearing conspicuous clothing, and by avoiding excessive speed when entering an

That some people persist in thinking that most motorcycle accidents occur in intersections still
bothers me. I'm all for being extra careful in an intersection, if that is what this thinking leads
to, but am most distressed that the evidence suggests that we need to be even more careful
in handling curves and that this is being discounted.

Though the stats I provided were admittedly fatality related, there simply must be a correlation
between fatal accidents and total accidents. Still there are other available sources than those
that I have provided.

Consider this from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) 1994 report
entitled: TRAFFIC SAFETY FACTS, on all traffic fatalities in the US during that year:

MOTORCYCLES The 2,304 motorcyclist fatalities accounted for 6 percent of total fatalities in
1994. The motorcycle fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles travelled is about 20 times that
of passenger cars. Motorcycle operator error was identified as a contributing factor in 76
percent of fatal crashes involving motorcycles in 1994. Excessive speed was the contributing
factor most often noted. 43 percent of fatally injured operators and 48 percent of fatally injured
passengers were not wearing helmets at the time of the crash. Approximately one out of
every five motorcycle operators involved in a fatal crash in 1994 was driving with an invalid
license at the time of the collision. Motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes in 1994 had
a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level (28.9 percent) than any other type of motor
vehicle driver. NHTSA estimates that 518 lives were saved by the use of motorcycle helmets
in 1994.

Operator error - 76% of fatal crashes involving motorcycles - and excessive speed. This is
simply NOT descriptive of intersection accidents.

This is NOT an argument that most two-vehicle accidents occur in curves - rather it is an
argument that most fatal motorcycle accidents do, thus it is probable that most of all
motorcycle accidents resulting in injury do as well. There is no doubt in my mind that multi-
vehicle accidents tend to occur in intersections.

                         Assuming It's Inevitable

                                     By James R. Davis

Of all the Tips I have posted here, this one is clearly the least credible in the sense that I have
no experience in the matter, nor can I imagine a way to practice that makes any sense to me
(nor would I want to.)

Still, I will post the thoughts in the hope that the reader will not take them as advice, but purely
my opinions on the matter. Further, I suspect that in real life one does not have time to do
anything deliberate until after the first impact, and then there may be no decisions possible.
On the other hand, since I have personally witnessed a deliberate and life-saving manoeuvre
by a woman who had just suffered a highside accident, I know that at least some people
retain enough presence of mind in an accident that the following couple of ideas just might

   The objective should always be NOT to fall - even if the bike is going down. That is
   why I teach my friends how to dismount their bikes (at slow speeds) if it is dumping,
   or to stay with it until after first impact at higher speeds, if possible.
   DO NOT TRY TO BREAK YOUR FALL WITH YOUR HANDS!!! In other words, try to
   impact with as much of your body at the same time as possible.
   If you are doing a lowside the bike is ahead of you and you want it to stay that way.
   Since the coefficient of friction between you and the ground/asphalt is higher than
   of a metal motorcycle, you want to get as much of your body on the ground at the
   same time as you can to slow you as quickly as possible so the bike will slide away
   from you. In other words, arms over head, feet first, butt down. Stay LOOSE
   (relaxed, in as large a configuration as possible.) LET GO OF THE MOTORCYCLE AS
   If you are doing a highside you will be in front of the bike when you hit the ground.
   You want to move as fast as possible - in the same direction you were going and for
   as long as you can - in order to try to avoid getting crushed. In other words, you
   want to 'tuck' and roll as soon as you can after you hit the ground. Stay TIGHT (in as
   small a configuration as possible.)

Before you try to get up after taking a spill you must be sure that you have come to a stop
first! Wait a couple of seconds until you are sure.

I don't think most people will have time to do anything deliberate at all by way of falling. But
perhaps I'm wrong and the above thoughts can in some way be of assistance.
Following the posting of this Tip I received many e-mail messages which argued that a person
simply does not have time to do anything that could affect the outcome of a fall. I responded
with the following:

My comments had very little to do with how you hit the ground following a 'get off' as I don't
think there is sufficient time to do anything very deliberate until after the first impact, and then
there may be no decisions possible. Rather, I was trying to suggest that as you are coming to
rest (assuming you can function at all) then you should try to END UP either loose (as much
body contact as possible with the ground) or tight (as little body contact as possible with the
ground - tuck and roll posture) depending on if you went down on the low side or the highside.

Despite the fact that I don't think most people would have neither the time nor the presence of
mind to do much 'thinking' during a 'get off', some do. I have personally seen, for example, a
woman in her late fifties do a 50 MPH highside and when she landed, because (I believe -
she can't remember) she was so afraid that the bike would land on top of her, began a rapid
rolling manoeuvre that saved her life (the motorcycle stopped 1 foot short of where she did.) I

have personally witnessed this same woman (honest) respond to a huge wind gust that
knocked her bike over just as we were coming to a stop at a pullout on the top of a mountain
and she was thrown over her bike, this time at about 5 MPH. During this latter 'highside' she
actually did a summersault before hitting the ground - a clearly deliberate move on her part
(we all watched as she tucked her head down and 'kicked' away from her bike which allowed
her to land on her curved back and then she 'unwound' and stopped her roll by spreading her
legs. (She had gotten away from the bike that was following her, but wanted to stop rather
than keep going.) Good thing, because had she gone another five feet she would have had a
SEVENTY FOOT fall off the mountain. (There was no fence or guard rail that would have
stopped it.) Incidentally, Elaine saw both of these 'highsides' , too.

Anyway, I mention these events because they left a very strong impression on me that some
people DO have the presence of mind to determine how to END a fall, despite how fast things
are happening to them. I'm not at all sure I'm one of those people, but at least I have thought
about it and know that if I'm in front of my motorcycle I want to keep moving until I can't move
any more - and I want as small an exposed profile as possible, just in case that bike catches
up with me.

As to the lowside concept of trying to end up on your back, arms over your head, feet first -
this was originally told to me by a motorcycle 'stunt man' in LA a couple of decades ago about
how he tries to stop after a dismount. (Not that any of us are into that sort of thing, of course.

                          Be Riding Motorcycles
                 (A curmudgeon's point of view)
                                    By James R. Davis

I have decided to post a set of opinions here that some of you might not have expected from
me. Since it is clear that motorcycle riding is rather a passion of mine, it might seem strange
to some of you that I actively try to discourage a few people from sharing this sport with me.
Nevertheless, I do.

For example, if the person is male and under the age of 30, (Honour Roll students, choirboys,
war vets, doctors, lawyers, Indian Chiefs included), I don't think they should get within 30 feet
of a motorcycle, but that is obviously unfair in the extreme.

(Now that I think about it, the same holds true if the person is female and under the age of

Somewhat more seriously, a newly married man or woman might be well advised to defer
ambitions to ride a motorcycle until their attention and focus can be redirected/broadened.
This is not an opinion held with any particular strength, however.

Higher on the list though are parents of relatively young children. These people, it seems to
me, are risking far more than their own lives on a motorcycle.

A person who is genuinely terrified of the activity should be engaged in some other sport.
And, on the other side of that same coin, a person that has no fear, whatever, probably
should not be driving motorcycles either.

Anyone who believes that they should not be riding, for whatever reason, is RIGHT! To ignore
that particular inner voice is foolish in the extreme. (This does not mean these people should
never ride, only that they should not ride while they happen to believe that they shouldn't.)

A currently active alcoholic or drug addict is obviously not a person who should be driving
anything (nor should they be allowed onto your motorcycle as a passenger!).

Finally, and this one is sure to find a few more people that will take a great dislike towards
me; because riding a motorcycle takes as much judgment and clear thinking as it does skill, I
think motorcycles should not be a sport taken up by anyone that confuses the wearing of a
helmet (as opposed to a law regarding the wearing of it), with civil rights. (The wearing of a
helmet is a safety issue, a helmet law is a civil rights issue.)

                                    By James R. Davis

Like an airplane, it is my opinion that motorcycles should have a 'walk around' performed
before every ride. During these quick checks you will see the obvious: low tire pressure,
damaged tires, dripping oil, open luggage, and the like. (You might also get in the habit of
checking your oil level.)

Depending on how frequently you ride, I suggest that a 'touch everything' (literally) check
should also be done regularly where such things as loose windscreens, loose spark plug
wires, loose antennas, loose mirrors, etc. are discovered before they become problems.

But one part of our machines tends to get overlooked by most during our casual checks - our
side stands.

First, let's look at what can go wrong with them.

  The most obvious is a weak or broken lock spring. With either you can end up
  dragging the stand as you ride, or it will fail to 'lock' the stand into place when you
  lower it leaving your bike on its left side when you dismount.
  Newer bikes have an interlock switch that kills the ignition if you put the bike into
  gear while the stand is down. That switch can fail. If you rely on it and don't bother
  to check that the stand is up before you drive away, that first left turn can easily

  send you bouncing over to the right and result in total loss of control.
  Older bikes have a rubber 'finger' extension at the tip of the stand that will wear over
  time. The purpose of that little 'finger' is to grab the pavement before the metal part
  of the stand itself does and ATTEMPT to pull the stand out of its locked position
  before it hits. There is a wear marker on these rubber extensions and when yours
  gets worn to that point it should be replaced because it no longer reaches the
  ground before the metal part of the side stand.
  If when parked on a level surface your bike is not leaning heavily on the side stand
  you should adjust the side stand, if possible, so that it does. If it is not possible for
  you to adjust the side stand sufficiently, any welder can easily do so in a matter of

Assuming that your side stand is fully functional, there are things you should not do in order to
keep them from turning dangerous.

  You should never take a bike down from its centre stand while the side stand is
  down. To do so risks potential damage to the frame and engine mounts (from shock)
  and can easily result in tossing your bike over onto its right side. Situations that
  increase the risk include your shocks being low, heavy luggage, a road slope to the
  right, or coming down slightly off centre.
  You should never simply kick the stand down at your destination and climb off your
  bike without visually checking that it is extended all the way and 'locked' into place.
  You should never have your shocks so low, or luggage so heavy, or stop on an
  incline to the right so great that you have to lean the bike to the right in order to get
  the side stand all the way down. If you have to do so, the bike will not be leaning
  heavily on that side stand when you leave it and you cannot, as a result, trust that
  your bike will remain standing when you return to it.
  You should never allow a passenger to mount or dismount your bike while the side
  stand is down (or you are off the bike, or you do not have both feet on the ground, or
  you are not in neutral). Compressing/decompressing shocks can result in the side
  stand pushing the bike over onto its right side.
  You should never rely on the side stand to support your bike by itself unless you are
  parked on a solid surface. While sand and grassy areas are obviously not 'solid',
  neither is asphalt when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees. Placing a 'foot' under
  that side stand is usually all that is required to keep your stand from punching a
  hole under it and sending your bike onto its left side.
  You should never leave your bike unattended in neutral gear with the side stand
  down if you are parked facing down (OR up) a hill. Putting the bike in gear
  (especially reverse) will 'lock' the rear wheel and your bike will still be standing
  when you return to it.

                                    By James R. Davis

        I must admit, converting my Wing to a trike has been thought about. So, too, have I
        thought about adding a sidecar. If two wheels are fun, three might be all the better,

Perhaps, but not for me.

I suffered from a delusion that many of my fellow
riders seem to have - that three wheeled vehicles
would be easier to drive because they are more
stable as a result of lacking any lean. Yes and no.

People have sent me many messages regarding
their experiences on three-wheelers and I will use
this Tip to share with you what they had to say.

  There is NO COUNTER-STEERING involved when driving a three-wheeler. If there
  was no other reason to be careful about these machines, this one should at least tell
  you that you need to practice driving one before you take it out onto public streets!
  Front wheel traction is COMPROMISED in turns. You must drive more slowly in a
  curve than you would with a normal motorcycle because unlike with a two-wheeler
  which leans and therefore almost always has the front wheel aligned with the bike's
  body, a three-wheeler must be steered by actually turning the wheel. Thus, the
  bike's inertia is constantly trying to straighten that wheel, or ride over it. At similar
  speeds a three-wheeler will lose front wheel traction sooner than will a two-wheeler.
  Both rider and passenger are substantially stressed during turns. The bike stays
  level so they are both forced by centrifugal force towards the outside of their seats.
  Indeed, one person actually told me that he installed a SEAT BELT for his passenger
  on his trike for this reason!
  Trike handling is generally superior to that of motorcycles with sidecars, particularly
  those that do not allow some lean of the motorcycle on curves. Sidecar handling in
  a curve is typically described as "constantly pulling to one side when accelerating
  or decelerating, and requiring constant steering adjustments in turns."
  Changes to a standard motorcycle that are ideal for making a sidecar handle better
  (such as shortening the trail of the front-end or using a flatfooted automobile tire on
  the sidecar), make the motorcycle almost unrideable without the sidecar (if
  detachable - a rather dumb idea, in my opinion) or if there is insufficient weight in
  the sidecar.
  With or without an automobile tire, an empty sidecar proves to be more difficult to
  handle than when occupied with a passenger or load, for some people. One person
  reports that the sidecar manufacturer actually advises that he put a 50 pound load
  into it if unoccupied, for stability and handling.
  Unlike the conclusion that riding a two-wheeler leads you to, a sidecar's wheel can
  be lifted (dangerously) only when turning TOWARDS it (to the right, if mounted on
  the right side, for example.) This is the result, as described above, of having to steer
  the bike by turning the front wheel rather than by leaning it. Note, please, that as
  soon as the sidecar's tire leaves the ground you will once again be a two-wheeler.
  Since the bike would at that point be leaning heavily away from the curve you would
  INSTANTLY get a severe COUNTER-STEERING push in the direction of the lean!!!

(Actually, one person advises that this is not really a severe reaction and manifests
itself somewhat gradually - depending on the height of the lifted wheel.)

  Similarly, and just as unexpected based on two-wheel experience, if you take a turn
  too fast in a direction AWAY from the sidecar you run the risk of actually lifting the
  REAR wheel off the ground and nose diving the rig (i.e., a highside.)
  Despite the fact that a flatfooted automobile tire would be ideal, the tires found on

  sidecars are almost always NOT a standard automobile tire. It has been found on
  some occasions that Honda 15" motorcycle rims were fitted with standard 15"
  automobile tires with less than comforting results. Automobile rims actually have a
  SMALLER inside diameter than do motorcycle tires. Unless the rim has been
  specifically designed to automobile specifications you should NEVER mount an
  automobile tire on a sidecar. I suppose it also could go without saying, but while I'm
  at it, one should NEVER inflate the tire on a sidecar (indeed, any tire) in excess of
  the pressure recommended by the tire manufacturer (they have been known to KILL
  when exploding.).
  Mounting a sidecar on most motorcycles will void the motorcycle warranty and
  many (possibly most) dealership shops will not take them in for service.
  Both acceleration and mileage are less with either a sidecar or a trike rig than a
  standard motorcycle.

This Tip is designed to forewarn rather than to discourage. I know several elderly riders that
can no longer manage a two-wheeler who routinely ride three-wheelers without any trouble at

On the other hand, I know a woman who decided to 'practice' driving her husband's Wing with
its new sidecar on the public streets. She put her daughter in the sidecar and her husband
rode as passenger. There would be no high speeds for her - this was just a 'get familiar' ride.

At the very first turn she had to make at normal highway speeds she lost it. The daughter was
flung out of the sidecar and was hurt, but not badly. The husband sustained a broken collar
bone. But the motorcycle landed on top of the lady. It destroyed many of the organs in her
pelvic area as well as broke many bones. (She survived it - barely.)

Thus, the point of this Tip is that three-wheelers do not handle like two-wheelers and
REQUIRE practice other than on public roads before you should feel confident to venture out
among 'em.

[A most attractive and possibly perfect compromise between motorcycle and
automobile was recently announced. Check it out for yourself at:]

             (That crisis of confidence moment)
                                   By Elaine Anthony

Whether you've been riding a motorcycle for days or for decades, a time may come when you
find yourself wondering, "What on earth am I doing out here?"

Where and when this happens is important in trying to figure out what it means, if anything. If
you are trying to stay on two wheels in high crosswinds with 18-wheelers passing, a fleeting
wish to be elsewhere is understandable. Wanting to "get the ride over with" is probably not an
abnormal attitude even for the hardcore, if the landscape you're looking at resembles a
nuclear test site or if you've got a storm at your back.

Sometimes, though, this question hits, and it just seems irrational.

Remembering what learning to ride was like for me, and my sense of breathless amazement
at going 50 the first time, I suspect new riders frequently wonder what on earth they are doing
out there. When first learning to handle a motorcycle, whether it's on motocross trails or in the
middle of city traffic, it's natural to be concerned for your own skin.

Riding a street bike is risky. Dropping a bike is embarrassing if not painful, and the pavement
can be soooo hard. Until the skills required to operate these complex machines become well-
practiced, a rider might be asking "What am I doing out here?" several times in a day's ride.
But for a more experienced rider who knows her own limits and can better manage her risks,
this could mean she's riding too far, too fast -- and a part of her knows it.

If a person is scaring herself regularly, maybe the search for adventure has become reckless
thrill-seeking -- and dangerous to herself and others. One rider's loss of control creates an
enormous risk for a group. This is one reason the Lone Star Ladies (LSL) regularly discuss
and practice our group riding safety rules, especially with those new to us, and they are asked
to ride toward the rear.

Once motorcycle touring gets into your blood, and you gain experience on your bike, your skill
and confidence increase. Because you keep your bike well maintained and practice safety in
the everyday details of riding, you learn to relax. Fear is forgotten in the glorious fun, in the
sights and sounds and smells and people encountered on a run, in the companionship of the
"family" as you travel, and in the interest you generate in the people you meet. A bout of
irrational, stark terror becomes a rarity -- but it can still happen.

Several years ago, as I started the first leg of a major trip, I had a panic reaction that stayed
with me for several hours and was very hard to shake. (I needed sleep.) But I've heard about
it happening to riders with far more years and miles on them than I have, and I've even seen
several examples of it when, for no particular reason, a turn or a U-turn just looked "too hard"
to make on a Gold Wing, despite the rider's demonstrated abilities.

What should you do when you can't shake a negative feeling? Are you losing your nerve? Are
your riding days over?

Without attempting some kind of "biko-psycho-analysis," I suggest that a crisis of confidence
or intense fear while riding first calls for that rider's attention. The rider should signal for a stop
if necessary to allow her to pay attention to what is going on without endangering herself or
others. It should not be ignored.

Even in a moment of terror that comes out of nowhere, sudden movement on a motorcycle is
not recommended. A street rider expects to maintain control at all times. Unless you decide to
put your bike down and give up control for some definite reason, chances are you will be fine
if you just keep on doing all the right things.

I've experienced a number of moments of discomfort when riding that seemed unrelated to
road, traffic, or rain. It may have been a memory, or my imagination running away. I have
ridden through them, but I couldn't ignore how uncomfortable I was. I continued to question
whether I needed to make a "head-check" stop, whether my riding skills were being affected,
whether I could "breathe through it," and what was really nagging at me. I stopped "casually"
before many more miles, but I didn't want to let my paranoia take over and make sure I

After encounters with my demons of the road, I've looked back and tried to analyse the
circumstances. I've realized a lot of things can cause my pleasure in riding to seep away, and
my awareness of risk to grow irrationally. These include not eating and getting low blood
sugar, fatigue, dehydration, cramped muscles, riding an unfamiliar bike, starting out on a trip
without understanding the route or the stresses it would take, believing I should do something
differently to please someone else in the group, and not personally checking some aspect of
my equipment. Any of these things can cause extra stress in the midst of what can be a
stressful sport. Dealing with some of these factors takes a change in habits; some, a change
in attitude. To ride safely and keep enjoying it, across, say, a 400-mile day, confidence has to
play a big part.

What about peer pressure to get through a bad ride or a shaky moment without
"inconveniencing" the other riders? Most LSL fellow riders would tell you this: "If you've ever
been 'inconvenienced' by having to follow a friend to the Emergency Room to see if she
makes it, you can handle an extra five-minute break to keep a rider out of there."

Besides, motorcyclists expect help from each other along the road: a helmet placed on the
ground by a bike's front wheel is the universal signal that a rider needs assistance. In a Lone
Star Lady group, as in many others, if a rider needs to stop for any reason -- or no "rational"
reason at all -- that person will not be left to deal with a problem alone. Neither should a rider
who has a crisis of confidence expect to be criticized.

"Ride your own ride" puts the responsibility on each individual rider to exercise the proper
degree of care and skill needed under the circumstances. Group riding LSL-style is not for
everyone, but it has some definite advantages in the give-and-take.

Some riders are sensitive to pressure from peers to test their skills and try something risky. If
you want to experiment, don't take a dare. Do it in an environment you can at least partially
control: on an empty parking lot, or in a quiet neighbourhood, or on the training range at a
Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. Being pushed into riding longer, faster, harder, on a
bike you can't handle, or under conditions you find unsafe -- especially out in the boonies with
people who don't respect your limits -- doesn't set up good conditions for success, or learning,
or having fun, or being uninjured and well enough to ride the next day.

When the Lone Star Ladies and Gents acknowledge and recognize our members who take a
safety course or perfect a new skill, this attitude encourages all our riders to practice, share
what is learned, and to feel good about it.

"What on earth am I doing out here?" If it happens, the decision is yours: to ride or not to
ride? If you just can't get to relaxed-but-aware, you may not enjoy yourself. If you have to stop
to regroup emotionally and mentally, don't beat yourself up. Take a break, find a friendly back-
seat, or come to club events on four-wheels. Attend to your needs, and don't ignore the signs:
a candy bar might be all you need to feel safe again.

If there's no 'real' reason for panic, perhaps you can ride through it and trust your common
sense to keep you safe. Finding a way back to the fun is one of the challenges of
motorcycling that has involved real personal growth, for me. It has taught me courage and
self-control to deal with my fears. Like the old farmer, I find "I've had a lot of worries in my life,
but most of them never happened."

                                      By James R. Davis

You are trained and competent at both CPR and First Aid and you come upon a scene that
obviously requires you to perform one or both of these services. What is the FIRST thing that
you should do?

At a recent monthly meeting of the Houston chapter of the Lone Star Ladies there was a
discussion of this topic that left me very uncomfortable. The reason for this is that I heard
suggestions that ranged from "Start CPR immediately" to "Make sure the victim can breathe."
I, on the other hand, suggested that the very first thing that should be done is to arrange to
have 911 called.

The members unanimously found fault with that suggestion.

While I understand their desire and goodwill in the matter, I think it is important to think this
through a little more carefully than we all did at that meeting.

Recall that the premise is that it's obvious that either CPR or First Aid services are required.
In other words, I'm not suggesting that you have come upon a person sleeping at the side of
the road who happens to look like s/he might need your help. Instead, you happen upon a
scene in which there is obvious major trauma to someone.

Let's say that you discover that the person's heart is not beating. Traditional thinking has it
that you must start CPR immediately! The logic is that failure to do so could very well allow
the victim to die needlessly - oxygenated blood is not getting to the victim's brain!

While that is true, and even if you are fully trained and qualified to administer both CPR and
First Aid, it seems to me that without trained EMS help along with transportation and other
life-supporting facilities to help you, the odds are overwhelming that the victim will die anyway!
Maybe five minutes later, maybe five hours later, but it will almost certainly happen. (Recall
that if his heart has already stopped he is already 'dead' and all you are trying to do with CPR
is keep it from being a permanent status.)

It is a fact that most trauma cases require multiple SIMULTANEOUS EMS efforts. While you
administer CPR, for example, you cannot also be stopping the loss of blood from an
amputated leg!

If you are alone and not near a telephone, you have no alternative but to try to help the victim
while waiting for someone else to show up who can summon help for you (assuming you
decide to provide CPR at all.) But if you are close to a telephone then it is my opinion that the
very first thing you should do is call 911. This will cost a brief delay in starting the victim's aid,
but it increases the odds that the victim will ultimately survive substantially!

Consider: You are riding your bike and see an accident occur in front of you. You stop your
bike to see if you can help. Did you pull over to the side of the road then put the kickstand
down or did you just drop the bike to save time? You pulled out of the way of traffic and
probably put the kickstand down as well! That cost very little time, but helped insure that you
would not become another victim of accident. That would obviously not help the first victim.
So, even before a one minute phone call to 911 you need to be sure that the scene is secure!
Be sure it poses no immediate danger to you or others. THEN, make your call.

A one minute 911 phone call to get a trained and equipped EMS unit out to the scene costs
one minute. If you spend ten minutes doing CPR before someone calls 911, that costs the
victim TEN MINUTES of pure oxygen, pain killers, whole blood, and transportation to a

If there is more than one of you at the scene, the FIRST thing you should do, in my opinion, is
insure that someone places a 911 call. No ifs, ands, or buts. If it turns out that 911 is not
actually needed, you can always call them back and cancel the request. But you can never
recover lost time for a major trauma victim. You are, after all, trying to save his/her life - you
are trying to buy time. Why give time away unnecessarily?

There is a significant exception to the above: if the victim is a child whose heart has stopped
beating or who has stopped breathing, then the child's chance of survival increases if you
begin immediate life support - but this is a tough call.

                                     By James R. Davis

Everyone who has driven a motorcycle has experienced it, the MSF classes mention (but
don't explain) it, and motorcyclists discuss it all the time. But what is it, really? How does it
work? Why does it work? All questions I will try to deal with in this discussion.

At very slow speeds we steer a motorcycle by turning the handlebar in the direction we wish
to go. We can only do that at speeds of less than about 5 MPH. At any higher speed we do
the exact opposite, whether we realize it or not. For example, assuming we want to turn to the
right, we actually TRY to turn the handlebar left. This results in the front wheel leaning to the
right and, as a result of the lean of the wheel, a turn to the right. This is counter-steering.

Why is it that we don't get confused regardless of our speed? Because we have learned that
steering a motorcycle is an effortless chore. That attempt to turn the handlebar to the left
FEELS like we are pushing the right grip rather than pulling on the left one. It feels like that
because the harder we push it, the more the motorcycle turns to the right and, thus, it feels
like the right grip is pushing back at you that much harder. In other words, we quickly learn to
associate counter-steering feedback with the hand closest to the direction in which we wish to
turn. Further, even a little bit of experience shows that counter-steering is essentially
effortless while trying to turn the handlebar in the direction you want to go is virtually
impossible. Humans are relatively fast studies, after all.

It takes only a modest familiarity with a gyroscope to understand counter-steering - at least to
understand how most people believe it starts to work. The phenomenon is called Gyroscopic
Precession. This is what happens when a lateral force is applied to the axis of a spinning
gyroscope. The spinning gyroscope translates the force vector ninety degrees off the direction
of spin. Thus, if we try to turn our front wheel to the left, the force we use appears as a lateral
force forward against the axle on the right side and this is translated into a force that tries to
lean the wheel to the right. Similarly, trying to turn the wheel to the right results in the wheel
trying to lean to the left.

But gyroscopic precession is not a necessary component of counter-steering. No matter how
slight, if your front wheel deviates from a straight path your motorcycle will begin to lean in the
opposite direction. It is entirely accurate to assume that even without gyroscopic precession,
the act of steering the front wheel out from under the bike would start counter-steering in the
opposite direction. This is a result of steering geometry - rake. You can observe it at a
complete stop. Just turn your handlebars in one direction and you will see that your bike leans
in the opposite direction as a result. [Please note that though gyroscopic precession is not a
necessary component of counter-steering it GREATLY facilitates it. Indeed, it is the
precession of the REAR tire that results from the momentary change of direction of the bike
that 'pushes' about 80% of the bulk of the bike into a lean in the direction you want to go.]

In the case of a motorcycle, your handlebar input is immediately translated by gyroscopic
precession into a lean in the opposite direction. Since your front wheel is attached to the
bike's frame, the body of the bike also attempts to lean. It is the lean of the BIKE that
overwhelms the handlebar effort and drags the front wheel over with it - gyroscopic
precession merely starts the process and soon becomes inconsequential in the outcome.

If, for example, you had a ski rather than a front wheel, the front would actually begin to turn
in the direction of handlebar input (just like it does with a wheel instead of a ski) and body
lean in the opposite direction would then overwhelm that ski making counter-steering still

The ONLY WAY to turn a motorcycle that is moving faster than you can walk is by leaning it
(if it only has two wheels). We have talked only about what starts that lean to take place.
Indeed, all we have talked about is the directional change of the front wheel along with the
simultaneous lean of the bike, both in the opposite direction signalled by handlebar input. So
then what happens?

Before getting into what is actually somewhat complicated let me say that if you were to let go
of your handlebars and provide no steering information whatever (or you were to get knocked
off your motorcycle), after some wildly exciting swings from side to side your motorcycle
would 'find' a straight course to travel in and would stabilize itself on that course, straight up!
That's right, your motorcycle has a self-correcting design built into it - known as its Steering
Geometry - that causes it to automatically compensate for all forms of leaning and speed
changes and end up standing straight up, going in a straight line, whether you are on the bike
                                                         or not - until it is travelling so slowly
                                                         that it will fall down.

                                                         This diagram shows a typical
                                                         motorcycle front-end. The handlebars
                                                         are connected to the steering column,
                                                         which is connected to the knee bone,
                                                         which is... Oops, wrong discussion.
                                                         The steering column (actually called
                                                         the 'steering stem') does not connect to
                                                         the knee bone, nor does it connect
                                                         directly to your forks! Instead, it
                                                         connects to what is known as the triple-
                                                         tree (shown as D in the diagram.) This
                                                         is merely where both forks are tied,
                                                         along with the steering stem, to the
                                                         bike's frame. You will notice that the
                                                         triple-tree extends towards the front
                                                         and that as a result the forks are offset
                                                         forward some distance from the
                                                         steering stem. (Notice the red diagonal
                                                         lines marked C and C'.) This is known
                                                         as the offset.

Now please notice that the forks are not pointing straight down from the triple-tree, but are
instead at an angle. This angle is known as the rake. Were it not for that rake (and modest
offset) the front tire would touch the ground at point A. (Most rake angles are approximately
30 degrees.)

What the rake does for you is profoundly important. For one thing, it causes any lean of the
wheel to be translated into a turn of the wheel towards that lean. For another, it slows down
your steering. That is, if you turn your handlebar 20 degrees at slow speed your course will
change something less than 20 degrees. [At higher speeds you NEVER would turn your
handlebars 20 degrees - the front wheel is always pointing virtually straight ahead.] Rake, in
the case of higher speed turning then really does SLOW DOWN the realization of the turn.
(We will see why soon.)

Looking at the diagram, imagine that instead of pointing to the right the wheel is pointing
straight at you. (The body of the motorcycle remains pointing to the right.) You will now
recognize that the contact patch which was B before the wheel turned has now got to be near
where C' is at. In other words, the fact that your wheel is on a rake results in the consumption
of part of your steering input into a displacement of the contact patch of the wheel. (This is
why steering is 'slower' - and the greater the rake, the slower it is. Note that 'slow steering' is
NOT the same as 'under-steer'.)

Notice also that where the red diagonal line marked C' touches the tire is higher than where B
touches the tire. This demonstrates that a consequence of turning is that the front-end of your
motorcycle actually lowers based on rake geometry. The distance between where B and C
(not C') touch the ground is called trail. (Trail, as you can see, is determined by rake angle,
offset and tire radius.) Some motorcycles will have the hub of the front wheel either above or
below the forks rather than directly in the middle of them. In effect, these placements are
designed to reduce or increase the effect of the offset in order to increase or reduce trail.

The stability of your motorcycle at speed is a function of how long its trail is. However,
have you ever noticed that the front wheel on bikes that have excessive rakes (and therefore
long trail) have a tendency to flop over (at low speeds) when they are not aligned perfectly
straight ahead? This is the phenomena that explains just one of the reasons why your wheel
actually turns in the direction you want to go after it begins to lean in that direction. Any lean
whatever of the wheel, because gravity tries to lower the front-end, receives an assist from
gravity in its efforts to move the contact patch forward along the trail. Further, notice that the
pivot axis of your forks is along C, not C' and that this is behind the bulk of the front-end.
Thus, gravity plays an even bigger role in causing the wheel to turn than at first glance it
would appear. (And now you see why you have steering dampers - so that a little lean doesn't
result in a FAST tank-slapping fall of the wheel in the direction of the lean.)

But there is another, more powerful, reason that the lean is translated into a turn - Camber
Thrust. Unlike automobile tires, your motorcycle rides on tires that are rounded instead of flat
from side to side. When you are riding vertically your contact patch is right in the middle of the
tire, at its farthest point from the hub of the wheel. When you are leaning you are riding on a
part of the tire that is closer to the hub of the wheel. The farthest parts of the tire from the hub
of the wheel are TURNING FASTER than any part closer to that hub. Thus, when you are
                                              leaning the outside edge of the contact patch is
                                              moving faster than is the inside edge.

                                            Imagine taking two tapered drinking glasses and
                                            putting them together as in the next diagram. Does
                                            this not bear a striking resemblance to the profile of
                                            your tires when looking at them head on?

                                                        Now imagine placing one of those glasses
                                                        on its side on the table and giving it a
                                                        push. Note that the glass MUST move in a
                                                        circle because the lip of the glass is
                                                        moving faster than any other part of it. The
                                                        same is true of your tires. This camber
                                                        thrust forces your wheel to turn in
response to a lean.

                                                              Thus, both the rake geometry and
                                                              camber thrust conspire to cause a
                                                              leaning front wheel to become a turn
                                                              in the direction of the lean. Then, of
                                                              course, the motorcycle body follows
                                                              the wheel and it, too, leans in the
                                                              direction of the turn.

                                                          So, now you know what counter-
                                                          steering is, how it works, and why.
                                                          What might just now be occurring to
                                                          you is with all of these forces
conspiring to cause the wheel to lean and then turn in the direction you want to go, what stops
that wheel from going all the way to a stop every time a little counter-steer is used? And, as I
earlier mentioned, how does a pilotless motorcycle automatically right itself?

The answer to both of those questions is centrifugal force and, again, rake geometry. For any
given speed and lean combination there is only one diameter of a circle that can be
maintained. This is a natural balance point at which gravity is trying to pull the bike down and
centrifugal force is trying to stand it up, both with equal results. (If you have Excel on your
system you might want to click on this link for a model that demonstrates this concept.)

If the speed is increased without a corresponding decrease in the diameter of the turn being
made, centrifugal force will try to stand the bike more vertically - i.e., decreases the lean
angle. This, in turn, decreases the camber thrust and the bike will, of its own accord, increase
the diameter of the turn being made.

If the speed had been held constant but the bike attempts to shorten the diameter of the turn
beyond that natural balance point then centrifugal forces are greater than gravity and it stands
taller, again lengthening the diameter of the turn as described earlier.

Once your bike is stable in a curve (constant speed and constant lean) then it will stay that
way until it receives some steering input. i.e., you again use some counter-steering or the
road surface changes or the wind changes or you shift your weight in some way or you
change speed.

As soon as any form of steering input occurs the stability of the bike is diminished.
Momentum, camber forces and rake geometry will then engage in mortal combat with each
other which will, eventually, cause the motorcycle to find a way to straighten itself out. That
momentum will try to keep the motorcycle going in a straight line is obvious, but it also works
with traction in an interesting way. That is, because the front tire's contact patch has traction
the momentum of the entire motorcycle is applied to the task of trying to 'scrub' the rubber off
that tire. If the body of the motorcycle is aligned with the front tire (only possible if travelling in
a straight line) then there is essentially no 'scrubbing' going on. But if the bike is not in perfect
alignment with the front tire, then momentum will try to straighten the wheel by pushing
against the edge of that contact patch which is on the outside of the curve. As the contact
patch touches the ground somewhere near point B, and because that is significantly behind
the pivot axis of the front-end (red-dashed line C), the wheel is forced to pivot away from the

I believe you now see why if the bike were to become pilot-less it would wildly gyrate for a few
moments as all of these conflicting forces battled each other and the bike became stable by
seeking a straight path and being vertical. Clever, these motorcycle front-end designers. No?

                                    By James R. Davis

Sooner or later you will need to find a failing component, a broken wire, or a short. Or, you will
attempt to add a new device to your motorcycle and have to do some wiring. Following are a
set of basics that seem not to be taught anywhere except by experience:

   Just because the motorcycle uses a 12 Volt battery does not mean that LETHAL
   voltages don't exist. Spark plug leads carry many thousands of Volts! Stay away
   from them.
   The vast majority of 'failures' can be fixed with the simple replacement of a fuse -
   particularly on older bikes that use old-style fuses. If the failing fuse is not visibly
   burnt it is often just fractured as a result of age.
   Crimp connectors are a NO-NO on motorcycles. Vibration and weathering will
   eventually make them fail. Solder all wire joints you make and use a piece of shrink-
   wrap tubing to finish the job.
   Solid wires are a NO-NO on motorcycles. Vibration tends to fracture them. Always
   use stranded wire. (You should carry a length of stranded wire as part of your
   Many circuits in modern motorcycles contain solid state devices (transistors). These
   can be damaged if you use a test light on them. Instead, use a high impedance (10-
   meg or greater) digital multimeter to test voltage levels in these circuits.
   Any connector that you can pull apart should be packed with dielectric grease when
   you have put it back together again! Dielectric grease is NON-CONDUCTIVE. It is
   used to keep contacts within the connectors clean and to protect them from
   corrosion. Connectors in a motorcycle's charging system will melt and fail easily if
   those contacts are not perfectly maintained because the slightest increase in
   resistance will cause a huge amount of heat based on their large current loads.
   Even with the master fuse pulled there is one great danger that continues to exist in
   a motorcycle's electrical system - the starter solenoid. Since the current load
   necessary to turn the starter motor is so great, that circuit is NOT fused. Thus, if you
   happen to short the solenoid your bike's starter motor will engage!
   Whenever adding a component use a separate fuse and circuit for it. Do not simply
   piggy-back on an existing circuit.
   Whenever removing your battery always disconnect the NEGATIVE terminal first.
   This insures that there will not be a disaster should your screwdriver happen to slip
   while disconnecting the positive terminal and it hits any bare metal.
   If you smell gasoline, do NOT work on electrical systems!!!!!!!!

                                    By James R. Davis

You are out on an overnighter and are parking the bike for the evening. The winds are up. Do
you use a cover or not? Put it up on the centre stand or leave it on the side stand?

Let me deal with the second question first - it is the easiest. Rule-of-thumb: Unless you are
parked inside a garage on concrete, use your side stand!

Your side stand provides a WIDE tripod as compared to your centre stand. As such, it
provides far more stable parking for your motorcycle. The sole exception to this is if you are
unable to park such that the bike leans firmly on the side stand. For example, if your shocks
or tire pressure are low, your luggage weight is high, or the ground slopes to the right. If the
bike is not leaning firmly on your side stand it can rather easily be pushed over to the right

Though high winds and bike covers do not go well together, I always use mine when I'm out
on an overnighter. This, to tend to minimize the risks of theft and curiosity seekers taking
liberties (even good natured parents have taken the liberty of placing one of their children in a
bike's saddle they were walking by without getting the bike owner's permission.) Further, I'd
rather the cover get damaged from windblown sand and other debris than the finish on my

Remember to use some form of fastener to cinch together the bottom edges of your cover
under the bike to keep it from flying off (and to further deter someone who might even think
about stealing the bike.)

                                    By James R. Davis

Most of us do not need to test limits, but it still happens that you might someday find yourself
leaning too far into a curve and hearing/feeling your peg start to drag. What should you do
about it?

Well, let me start by telling you what most people, I believe, instinctively try and what is dead
wrong! They immediately roll off the accelerator and lean away from the dragging peg. These

are BOTH wrong things to do because each action either lowers the bike (rolling off the
accelerator) or increases the lean angle and as a result the peg will no longer be gently
scraping the asphalt but will try to gouge a trough into it.

There are three things that can be done as soon as you hear/feel a peg scrape:

   Increase throttle - (but note that you are already close to sliding and ANY increase in
   speed can be all she wrote)
   Counter-steer away from the dragging peg - (widen the turn)
   Shift body weight towards the dragging peg - (that is not a misprint)

Each of these actions tends to straighten the bike up. Any one of them will 'cure' the problem
and is sufficient by itself. You can, of course, do two or all three of these things at the same

Note, however, that doing the wrong things, it seems to me, is instinctive and that you need to
mentally prepare to do the right things in advance. But that is exactly why you are reading this
tip - to determine what experience has shown others is the right thing to do without having to
'discover' by trial and potentially fatal error for yourself.

                                    By James R. Davis

While at my favourite cycle accessory shop the other day I met a man who was the proud
owner of a new Wing and a colour-coordinated trailer that he was polishing mightily in
preparation for a week out on the road.

He had 20 years riding experience and has 'always' had a trailer, so he said.

We talked at length about handling characteristics, effects on gas mileage, tire wear
(including that of the rear tire on the bike), and proper weight distribution and loading
practices. All in all I believe I learned a lot from him.

Then I noticed his hitch. It was a beauty - all chrome and besides having the typical ball
connector, it had a swivel in it. Even the chains he used were chromed!

So what's this message all about? Those chains. The man did not have them crossed. In all
his years of pulling a trailer nobody had ever bothered to tell him to cross those chains so that
they form a 'catch' for the tongue should the hitch ever disconnect from the ball. (When he left
the accessory shop they were crossed.)

If that man's hitch had ever managed to dislodge from the ball the tongue would have dug
itself into the pavement and a good ride would have been over! Further, unlike what happens
when you lose a trailer from the back-end of a car or truck, the trailer's tongue is right in line
with the motorcycle's rear tire. Even if it could not quite reach the ground should it disconnect,
that tongue can certainly reach the tire if the chains are too long. In all, bad news!

So, when you attach that trailer to your bike be sure to cross a pair of chains under its tongue
before connecting the chains to the hitch and be sure that the chains are not so long that the
tongue can reach your rear tire after a disconnect.

Also, don't use cheap spring clip connectors on the end of those chains. If those chains are
supporting the tongue of your trailer and you were to then stand on that tongue (as some
policemen are apt to try to 'test' them), they MUST HOLD.

Incidentally, in most states you are required to use TWO chains when pulling a trailer, and in
every state you are totally responsible for any damage that the trailer might cause should it
get away from you.

   Almost Always Better Than Petroleum Based
                                     By James R. Davis

In almost all cases the use of synthetic oil (at least now) is better in your motorcycle than
straight petroleum based oil. But not in all cases. Oil additives with Teflon® in them, for
example, don't make any sense to me.

I guess some people might not understand that a good part of petroleum based oils are
synthetics anyway (virtually all the additives). Thus, we already have some experience with
synthetic lubricating fluids in our engines.

The principal drawback to the synthetics is that they are more expensive than straight
petroleum based oils. But in exchange for that higher price you usually get your money's
worth. Longer life before they have to be changed, more consistent performance regardless
of temperature or engine RPM, better lubrication (more slippery), as well as all the functions
of better oils with their additives.

But your oil does more than help pieces of metal slide/roll easier. It has the job of loosening
and keeping in suspension sludge and varnish. It has the job of absorbing moisture to inhibit
rust and to diminish corrosion. It has to have sufficient variability in viscosity to continue to do
its job regardless of temperature changes. It has to be able to withstand shear forces as well
as heat and pressure. And, not incidentally, they must not destroy seals while they work.

Generally, synthetics are made today that do all of this, and more, as well as or better than
petroleum based oils.

Some synthetics were not as well designed in the past as they are today. Mobil-1, for
example, used to eat seals, for example, but it no longer does.

Manufacturers recommend against using synthetics during your engine break-in period. This,
because these oils are too slippery and normal break-in wear would not take place as quickly
as without them.

Many of those manufacturers used to advise against mixing synthetics with regular oils until
they found that they were denying themselves of much of their markets by doing so. Now
these synthetics are made so that they can be mixed without any trouble (But I would
recommend NOT doing so in any event.)

It is simply not very smart to put some brands of synthetic additives into a motorcycle - such
as 'Slick 50'. First, because you run a wet clutch and this kind of synthetic could render your
clutch quite inefficient and possibly useless, depending on how much of that product you use.
(If not, there may well come a time when you elect to no longer use it and you may well find
that your clutch has to be rebuilt just to get rid of what was in there.)

Second, because their claim of bonding Teflon® to metal cannot be true, and if the
manufacturers of that product need to rely on false claims to sell their products, what else
might they be saying that you are relying on?

Third, because Teflon® is a SOLID! Your oil filter is designed to get rid of solids. Teflon®
greatly increases in size with high temperatures - so even if the microscopic sized particles
will travel thru your filter to start with, there will come a time when you actually ride your bike
and it warms up. Then there are all the other oil flow surfaces and oil passageways that will
get smaller as a result of being coated with Teflon®. In any event, the next Tip will discuss
additives containing Teflon® in detail.

In summary, I agree that virtually all the synthetic oils are better for your motorcycle than are
regular petroleum based oils. They are more expensive, but probably worth the added cost.
Your shifting will be easier, you can go longer between oil changes, and you should
experience slightly less engine wear by using them.

[Not incidentally, you can expect about a 1% increase in engine power if you use synthetics.]

Teflon® is a registered trademark of Dupont.

        What's Dangerous About Riding In Fog?
                                     By James R. Davis

Have you ever been confronted with the need to drive in the fog? I can remember many days
of riding between L.A. and San Francisco where I found myself suddenly closed in by a fog
bank. Those were scary times, for several reasons.

If you cannot see two seconds ahead of you, of course, you should get off your bike. That's
not an issue many would argue. What is, however, is the nature of accidents that you can
expect if you ride in reduced visibility environments.

   Besides what we all understand as risks (that you will ride into something you didn't see,
   or that somebody will ride into you, for the same reason), I suggest that the most serious
problem likely to happen is that you will drop your motorcycle - for apparently no good reason.

It makes sense, actually. With limited visibility you are unable to see the horizon. Passing
trees give you some hint of vertical, but not always reliably. Anyway, if you are in a curve and
must stop quickly, you have no way of knowing if the bike is vertical when you get stopped!
Before you know it you find the bike falling over and you are unable to stop it. All because you
could not see the horizon, (even though you do not consciously look at it in order to gauge

Who’d thought such a thing?

Another interesting phenomena that a reader pointed out to me recently is that studies have
shown that people tend to gradually increase speed while driving in the fog. I didn't know that
and cannot recall that I have had that happen to me, but I certainly understand how it could
happen. With any experience at all we tend to look at our speedometers rarely as we can
judge pretty well what our speed is using the passing scenery for cues. In the fog those cues
are unreliable.

                                    By Hoddy Hodson

As those who have attended LAM events of late will know, there is one aspect of proper use
of a motorcycle which LAM does not teach. This is that basic task: parking the beast!

Many of us firmly believe that, as with the face of a Heidleberg student, it is unmanly for a
motorcycle to lack a few scars. However, many riders seem to wish to keep their fairings
unscratched, their mirrors unbent and their footpegs straight. A grasp of the basics of parking
your motorcycle will aid you considerably in this aim.

No rule is absolute, but most of the following rules apply most of the time. For convenience, it
is assumed that small people ride smaller 'bikes and big people rider bigger 'bikes: so,
whatever your size, your 'bike will be pretty big in comparison to your body weight. (Fat gits
on mopeds are ignored).

  Park with your rear wheel to the curb. Most roads camber; that is, they slope down
  to the gutter. Also, Most motorcycles have only got forward gears, so the engine can
  only help you pull away if you are facing in towards the centre of the road.
  Your tires never sink into even the softest of ground, but metal stands can do so.
  Park on the sidestand. If you have the slightest worry about the surface (mud, soft
  tarmac, etc) you can put a 'foot' (plastic or metal plate, usually attached to a line for
  easy retrieval, and stored in a pocket on your bike when not in use), flat rock, wood
  or the ubiquitous flattened beer can (I mean "soft drink can", Officer) under the side

  stand in such a case. It's much harder to chock up both legs of a centerstand. Also,
  on the sidestand you are "three point stable" like a tripod, the centre stand only
  gives you "two point stability". And it's far easier to "fine tune" the position of a
  'bike on the sidestand than it is to take it off the centre stand and start again.
  Similarly, always use the sidestand and a suitable 'foot' under the end of it when on
  camping trips. Even if the ground is rock hard when you park, rain or dew may
  soften it enough for the sidestand to dig in. And position the 'bike so that, if the
  stand sinks in despite your precautions, your tent with you in it will not be beneath
  the wreckage!
  Park at between 90 and 45 degrees to the flow of traffic (depending how wide the
  road is). Parking parallel to the flow of traffic makes the 'bike far less visible to other
  road users, without reducing the actual width all that much. If you can't park safely
  at 45 degrees, you probably shouldn't park there at all.
  Don't leave the 'bike parked with the engine running. If the road is so steep that you
  need to leave it in gear to stop it rolling, it is probably not the right place to leave it.
  (Remember; it is perfectly possible for an engine to "creep" past compression - so
  leaving it in gear does NOT make a good parking brake) If you have to park on a hill;
  park at 45 degrees to the road, with the rear tire downhill of the front and against the
  curb. And (unless you like the smell of ABS cement) use the sidestand.
  Think before you park! Look at the ground (for the aforementioned mud or soft
  tarmac) and if you see a nail, don't park on it! If you see a "No Parking" sign or
  marking, consider parking elsewhere. If you see 'Brixton confetti' (broken car
  window) consider parking elsewhere. If you see half a U-Lock and the innards of a
  Yamaha ignition switch, do park elsewhere!
  If you have a choice of parking spaces (e.g.: the length of a 'bike bay), you should
  park: where the road is widest; furthest from any corner or junction; not under a
  tree; under a street lamp; next to a wider vehicle but not behind a vehicle that may
  have difficulty reversing and where the 'bike is easily seen (preferably by yourself or
  members of your household).
  Try to leave a considerate space for other road users ('cos they'll only try to move
  the 'bike if you don't). Never park in the middle of a gap that is "one and a half" cars
  long: it's rude and selfish. However, you should park in the middle of a gap that is
  only one car long, to indicate to car drivers that they shouldn't try to squeeze in.
  If you possibly can, whenever you do have to move the 'bike under your own steam,
  sit astride it. If you are walking alongside a 'bike and have to turn or brake it sharply,
  it can easily fall away from you. As the bulk of the 'bike itself prevents you placing
  your feet to brace yourself, this quickly leads to the embarrassing position of you
  lying on top of the 'bike while a passing mongrel throws a bucket of water over you.
  When you have to move a 'bike under muscle power, don't let the exertion make you
  forget your Roadcraft. In large fleets, up to 80% of accidents happen while parking.
  People relax and forget to concentrate at the end of a trip. Don't forget to check for
  other moving vehicles before pushing your 'bike across the road!

by Hoddy Hodson, London Advanced Motorcyclists

'LAM' is London Advanced Motorcyclists. [LAM does not, yet, have an internet presence but is
in the process of preparing one at this time.]

They are an independent, charitable body affiliated to the IAM. Their aim is to train riders,
using a cadre of volunteer Observers, to the standard required for the IAM's Advanced Test.
The IAM in turn is a registered charity, established 1957, whose purpose is to improve road
safety by administering an Advanced Test (for cars and 'bikes). The IAM do not offer training,
they leave that to local volunteer groups, of which LAM is the London (England !) motorcycle

                                    By James R. Davis

Taking curves is rather a personal choice in terms of selection of entry and exit points as well
as speed, it seems to me.

For example, the typical advice I have heard from others is to choose an entry point that
allows you to make the curve using the smoothest line thru it so that you always have the
least lean demand. This, of course, gives you the most ability to compensate your path
through the curve should you find a need to do so. It also means that you hit the apex of the
curve at about its middle. That is, you enter from the outside edge of the curve, then move
towards the inside until you reach its apex, then continue from there outwards until you are
once again at the outside of the curve just as you exit it.

I, on the other hand, do not normally do this. I prefer to delay my entry into the curve. That is,
I stay to the outside edge well past the normal entry point, then turn much more sharply into it
and hit the inside much beyond the normal apex. This gives me two significant (to me)
advantages over the 'smoothest' course:

   I get the lean that I enjoy (read: crave!) in the beginning of the curve where I have
   seen all that I need to see in terms of potential trouble.
   When I exit the turn I am travelling at a much reduced angle relative to the path of
   the road. That is, since I am closer to the end of the curve when I reach the inside
   than is the normal apex, I have fewer degrees of the arc left to go before I am again
   going in a straight line. Said differently, if the road changes directions by a matter of
   90 degrees through a curve, no matter what path you select through it you will have
   totalled 90 degrees when you are out of it. Since I turn more into the curve at my
   delayed entry point, I have less left to go to complete the turn when I am near the

This last advantage is of profound importance, in my opinion. This gives me far more ability to
handle unexpected problems as I get closer to the end of the curve. For example, what if it
turns out to be a decreasing radius curve after all, or if there is gravel in the road that was not
visible at its entry?

By the way, when I said that 'I stay to the outside edge' above I in no way meant to imply that
I get close to the line. Far too many people seem to think that they have performed a safe
manoeuvre thru a curve so long as their wheels do not touch or cross the (centre) line.
WRONG! If any part of your motorcycle crosses that line, including just a grip, you are in the
                                         path of oncoming traffic, and are in THEIR lane.

                                         In any event, I TRY to overshoot my entry to a curve.
                                         Then I aggressively push-steer into it, and delay
                                         reaching the inside of the curve well past its apex. This
                                         also, incidentally, allows me to start an aggressive roll-
                                         on of my throttle sooner than when I am at the inside
                                         of the curve which gives me a better handling bike

through the majority of it. I should add that this delayed entry approach requires that you get
in the habit of not entering the curve too fast. Further, the right approach speed is one which
requires NO BRAKING at entry.

[You should use MODEST throttle roll-on all the way through any curve. The 'roll-on point' that
is shown in the graphic is where you can go after a higher exit speed if you happen to be
aggressive with your bike.]

If you find that you cross the outside line, ever, then it is time to reassess what you are doing.
Approaching the curve too fast? Insufficient confidence to aggressively push-steer when you
need to? Insufficient experience to pick a good line? Lack of respect for the laws of chance
(one of those times a 4-wheeler will have two of them across the line)? Acting like riding with
friends is a competitive sport? Whatever it is, if you ever cross that centre line you are riding
above your abilities (and everyone around you will know it) and you need to change
something soonest. Otherwise, make sure your relatives know your intentions relative to the
donation of your organs.

This method is just my preference, after all, and it seems to me is generally safer than the
'smoothest line' method usually described.

         Is Cheaper Than A Top-End Engine Job
                                     By James R. Davis

An apparently handy man with his tools recently posted a message in which he described a
method for tuning your engine without having all the special shop tools found at your
motorcycle dealership. Among other things, he said:

"Does your motor ping? If it pings *slightly*, you're right on the mark. If she pings horribly, you
need to retard your timing (rotate timing plate same direction as engine rotation). You can pull
over and do this by the side of the road. If she doesn't ping at all, advance your timing a little."

'Pinging', in my opinion, damages an engine. Indeed, I have been told by a world class
wrench that for every hour your engine runs while pinging you lose about ONE YEAR of life of
normal 'ping-free' engine operations.

I full well recognize that the person was describing a technique to time your engine without
the tools your mechanic has at his disposal and that he takes care to suggest that it should
only ping 'slightly' when done. That, it seems to me, is still 'pinging' and is too much.

There was a time when I did all my own wrenching (30 years ago). Besides the fact that
technology has evolved faster than my ability to keep up with it, I have come to believe that
both my time and my life (and that of any passenger I might have with me) are far too
valuable to fail to use an expert who is properly equipped/trained to take care of all but the
most trivial of maintenance on my motorcycle for me - regardless of the cost. If my motorcycle

pinged 'slightly' after I had it in the shop for a timing adjustment I would take it back and have
the mechanic correct it, and there is no doubt in my mind whatever that he would do so.

Assuming your engine is properly tuned, then you need to think about the octane rating of the
fuel you use.

Octane ratings

I think that some attention should be paid by all of us to both altitude and temperature in the
selection of our fuels. When it is hot a higher octane is often called for. The closer to sea level
you are, the more likely you should be running with a grade of gasoline above 'regular'. Note,
however, that the newer your motorcycle is, the less likely you need to run anything other
than 'regular' - ever. Motorcycles manufactured after about 1980 (other than the odd 'Boxer
Twin') were made to run quite well with regular gasoline. In the middle of summer, if you
notice a slight pinging from your engine, a medium grade of gasoline might be just the right
'fix', and it's cheap.

Using a higher octane than is needed does not cause unusual engine wear, though it may
tend to cause a carbon build-up within the engine - particularly if you use premium grade.
Using a lower rating, if it results in pinging, DOES do engine damage (the theme of this
message, after all.)

Pinging is the sound of damage being done to your engine (directly or indirectly - and, of
course, it could simply mean that you are driving in too high a gear.) A higher grade of
gasoline eliminates pinging - however, it may also merely camouflage what is really wrong by
eliminating those pings.) In other words it is perfectly safe (assuming that there is not
something fundamentally wrong with your engine and you do not use a higher octane to
eliminate symptoms), though a bit more expensive, to use a higher octane gasoline for part of
your driving year.

If your bike does not ping (at all) when using regular, fine, use regular. If it does, then move
up a grade of gasoline.

I may not be the most conservative motorcycle rider in the world, but paying an extra
fractional penny per mile driven seems like cheap preventative maintenance to me.

                                     By Elaine Anthony

Most attitudinally-impaired riders learn to ride a motorcycle on something smaller than a
GoldWing. Assuming you are thinking of moving up to a bigger bike, these 10 points may help
you enjoy the move.

   No matter how many miles you have behind you on a smaller bike, don't assume
   you can ride a bigger one on the street without practicing on a parking lot first.
   Moving up to a bigger bike is almost like starting over. (Most little riders going up to

a bigger bike don't have to be told this, but you never know. Some 'little people' still
have 'big brass ones'...or else they wouldn't be trying to ride a big bike to begin with.
If you can flatfoot one side and have 'ball of the foot' control on both sides of a big
bike, you can probably ride it safely under most circumstances. [Most bikes can
have their seats cut down about an inch to improve your ability to control it at the
expense of some comfort
Since the fear of dropping a big bike needs to be overcome early, assuming your
bike has sufficient guards on it to prevent damage, you may want to take it onto a
grassy area and practice dropping it gently from a standstill a couple of times in
order to learn the art of standing on the high peg and stepping away from the bike
with your other leg, in the event you ever do. This, in order not to end up underneath
it. You also may need either a reverse gear (if such is available for your model) or to
ride with accommodating friends in order to get your bike out of incline trouble, now
and then. Most of your fellow riders will be so impressed with your 'big brass ones'
for what you're riding that they're glad to help. If not, find riders who are.
Before you take your big bike on the road for the first time, sit on it and learn where
all the controls are, even the ones you don't think you will need (your 'mute' button,
for example.) It can be so exciting to ride one of these beasts that should you forget
to learn some of the basics early on, it may be too late when you're out there in
traffic and too terrified to even move around on the seat.
When you stop a big bike on an incline across your lane, put your foot down on the
HIGHER side only at first, and reach very carefully with your foot for the lower side.
If you have to, you CAN hold that big bike up with one leg for a very long period -
after all, its weight is on the tires, not carried by your leg. Short-legging a big bike
(and dumping it) is usually a matter of absent-mindedness... but in some groups,
you'll be wearing that pacifier for a while if you forget. <grin>
When turning a big bike at slow speeds, a tiny amount of pressure on the rear brake
can help you maintain control of the degree of lean you want. NEVER forget to look
through the turn!
To get a big bike off the side stand when it is leaning so much you can't easily pick
it up, grip the front brake and clutch levers securely (whether the engine is running
or not) and push the bike FORWARD as you try to bring it upright in one smooth
movement. (This modestly compresses the front suspension, making the bike a little
Be sure before you take your big bike on the road that you don't have pant-legs or
chaps which will tangle on the peg as you put your feet down at a stop.
Just because it's big doesn't mean it won't lean smartly. If your engine will
dependably carry you through a curve with power, you'll be able to lean a bigger
bike just as much as a turn requires, with normal skills, at prudent speed. This is a
matter of confidence and parking lot practice. You can control it through the foot
brake and the clutch.
If the wind seems to be buffeting a big bike more than the little bike you used to ride,
try to relax and know that your wheels are securely under you. The weight of the big
bike will tend to keep the rubber on the road in the absence of crisis braking, even if
you have to lean. If you increase speed somewhat in a strong crosswind, this may
help to give you stability (and will get you to the next stop a little sooner, where you
can relax your pucker string for a while).
You will soon get past the feeling that you are 'flying a 747' or that the big beast
'wants to go faster', although those are common reactions when you get on a bigger
bike. Big bikes tend to have smoother engines and a somewhat different gear ratio
from your smaller ride. Once you do get the hang of it, and after that magic 'click' in
the mind that tells you you're really RIDING this thing, remember to relax and enjoy
yourself -- and now and then, when you feel comfortable, to wave at your admirers!

                                                 By James R. Davis

                          Hydroplaning is the result of your tires moving FAST across a wet
surface - so fast that they do not have sufficient time to channel that moisture away from the
centre of the tire. The result is that the tire is lifted by the water away from the road and all
traction is thus lost.

Of course the word 'fast' is a relative term. Tread design, tread depth, weight of motorcycle,
tire pressure, depth of water and even the consistency of that water - (whether it is highly
aerated or not, for example) - all play a part in determining at what speed the tire will begin to
hydroplane. It is a pretty safe bet to assume that any speed in excess of 60 MPH is fast
enough to support hydroplaning regardless of the other variables. This is not to say that at 55
MPH you are safe, however. (A formula that comes close to predicting the speed at which you
will hydroplane, assuming at least .2" of water on the ground, is: 10.27 * Sqrt(tire pressure)
which shows that if your tires hold 35 psi, hydroplaning can be expected at 60.76 MPH, while
tires with 41 psi of air in them should expect hydroplaning at about 65.75 MPH. Another
formula that is somewhat more accurate, though much harder to calculate, is: 7.95 * Sqrt(tire
pressure * contact patch width / contact patch length). This formula shows that the wider the
contact patch is relative to its length, the higher the speed required to support hydroplaning.)

In any event, there are two absolutely essential NO-NO's to remember should you experience
the beginning of hydroplaning:

   Do NOT apply your brakes
   Do NOT try to steer in any direction but straight ahead

Though I am not formally trained in the matter I would suggest that the only thing you can
possibly do to help the situation is to feather your clutch to moderate your speed without the
possibility of drive train 'snap' that would result from an abrupt change of the accelerator.

Hope there is an idea in there that you can work with. Frankly, I think if you start to
hydroplane the odds are that you are going to go down unless you keep the front wheel
pointed absolutely dead ahead and it is of the briefest of durations.

While on this subject I would like to make another observation about our tires. If you look at
the stock front tire on all new GoldWings you will see a Dunlop K177.

If you look at the tire tread pattern you will also see that the grooves are cut in such a way as
to tend to channel water away from the centre of the tire if it is rotating in accord with the
                                                             arrow stamped on the side of the tire.
                                                             This seems to be consistent with what
                                                             the Dunlop factory rep advised in his
                                                             latest message to me on the subject.

                                                          However, if you look at the front tire
                                                          tread pattern of the new Dunlop Elite
                                                          II's (K491) they are aligned in exactly
                                                          the opposite way. That is, they tend to
                                                          channel water towards the centre of

the tire. This CANNOT be the most effective way to diminish the odds of hydroplaning! Either
the K177 or the K491 is safer on wet streets based on those tread patterns. (I believe that
most new street bikes (other than Honda) come with tires treaded like the K491's.)

If anyone knows why I sure would like to hear about it. Thanks.

I, of course, tried to find out the answer for myself. I wrote to the company that manufactures
these tires and in my letter I explained my concerns, just as I did above.

Following is the terse response I received from the Dunlop Tire Corporation to those
concerns. I think you can draw a few conclusions from this 'hedge" - at least one of which is
that hydroplaning and braking compete with each other from a tread design point of view. It
might also be concluded that if you start using these newer designs you should lower your
speeds in the future when the roads are wet, below what used to work just fine for you (I will!).

Our development and testing during the design of the Elite II front tire determined optimum
overall performance was achieved with this pattern which includes wet traction and braking.

Dunlop Tire Corporation

(This response was signed by a person named Tom Daley.)

Mind you that I am not of the opinion that Dunlop has made a mistake with this design! In fact,
I think braking performance is FAR MORE IMPORTANT than hydroplaning resistance. This is
particularly true since we can usually choose how fast we drive on wet streets but often
cannot choose when it is necessary to stop quickly. I would have liked a little more candour
from them on the issue, however.

For example, (because it is left to me to interpret their response), I do not know if they were
actually saying that they had determined that the old design (such as IS being shipped on the
front tires of new Wings) is better or not than the K491 design from an hydroplaning point of

My opinion on the matter is that if you have a choice you should get excellent hydroplaning
design on the rear tire (where I believe you need it more) and best possible braking traction
design on the front tire.

                              In An Armed Land
                                    By James R. Davis

A Canadian recently posted the following message in which he expressed his concerns about
travelling on his motorcycle in the United States:

As a group of us are planning a trip through Wash, Oregon and Calif along the pacific coast
and further inland in May, (without any guns and only a small knife to cut our BBQ'd steak.)
Are there any precautions that we should be taking or places that we should avoid? The
question was asked in good faith. Though this is not a particularly exhaustive answer to the
man, I posted it here because I believe it expresses sufficient 'pearls' that some readers might
avoid a very dangerous situation as a result of having read it.

For as long as I've been riding (almost 40 years) I have been aware that many of my riding
buddies travel with a gun somewhere on their bikes. Only recently has the practice of some
been to carry the weapon within reasonably easy access, particularly some of the women - in
'fanny packs'. Almost always they are carried safely stowed away in their luggage.

[Let me make it clear that it is legal in about 28 States to carry a concealed handgun,
provided you are licensed to do so - (most applicants for those licenses over the past year
have been women.) But it is illegal to carry a concealed gun without a permit in every State
other than Vermont. Nevertheless, the fact remains that they are everywhere.]

In nearly 500,000 miles of riding I have NEVER seen a motorcyclist show a gun IN PUBLIC,
let alone threaten to or actually use one. At campouts I have seen them transferred into tents
for the night, and on hiking trips I have seen them holstered (in plain sight of all of us, but
away from the public.) In other words, it is reasonable to assume that travelling motorcyclists
in the USA are carrying a weapon, and this is not new news. Now I'm not talking about
members of some motorcycle gang, I'm talking about ANY motorcyclist who is out on the road
- from school teachers to judges. Certainly not all of them, but you simply cannot know which
do and which do not.

Are there precautions to take? Certainly!

   Do not get into an altercation with a biker.
   Do not threaten a biker.
   Do not touch a biker's machine without permission. (Not likely to get you shot, but
   bad form.)
   Do not believe that ONLY biker's are carrying weapons! Virtually every cab driver,
   every long-haul rig ("18-wheeler") driver, MANY private automobile drivers, and
   MANY MORE pickup-truck drivers are also carrying weapons. (In other words,
   assume they all are.)

Since you are now advised that you should assume that virtually anybody you encounter on
the road is carrying a weapon, then it is obvious that these precautions apply at all times, not
just when bikers are around. What this leads to is the often quoted (in Texas) conclusion that
"an armed society is a polite society."

Finally, and this might strike you as being totally in jest - it is not:

   If you can't keep from using a one-finger salute when angry, consider amputating
   your middle fingers!

At least in the USA most bikers treat other bikers like family. You avoid confrontations,
generally, with family. Right?

[As an aside, Canada has the third most heavily armed population of all nations in the free
world. In fact there are some studies that suggest that there are as many weapons per person
in Canada as in the United States - though they have far more rifles and shotguns, and fewer

                                   By James R. Davis

Those vests and patches we wear at club meetings tell a story about us and our organizations
- sometimes, the wrong one.

Sometimes we wear them while riding our motorcycles and it is appropriate to do so. For
example, during a parade or a 'Toy Run' we are actively seeking to show the public that we
are organized, that we are proud of who we associate with, and to show off how many of our
group are there compared to other groups.

On the other hand, it rarely makes sense to wear our colours in public other than for events
like I just described.


  The public is 'unwashed' and has no idea what our colours mean. All they 'know' is
  that if a group of us are riding together a 'MOTORCYCLE GANG' has just gone by.
  There are places in most large cities where real gangs stake out their territory with
  the wearing of their colours. If you happen to be wearing the wrong 'colours' you
  can happen to get assaulted, or worse.
  Even as between the 'washed' and the 'unwashed', the wearing of colours can be
  seen as an invitation to confrontation. For example, there is some degree of
  similarity between the GWRRA patch and that of the Hell's Angels. Both groups of
  riders know the difference, but it is not unheard of for a Hell's Angel member to
  confront a GWRRA member because of the patch he is wearing.
  Most policemen do not ride motorcycles; i.e., they may well be 'unwashed'. Do you
  *really* want a policeman who stops you for some reason to think you are a gang
  Most of our vests are not simply adorned with patches - we often wear pins on them.
  If you were to hit the pavement while wearing a vest full of pins you would quickly
  learn that the catch on the back of them is designed to help keep the pins from
  falling off the vest, NOT to prevent the pins from penetrating your body!
  Finally, to show off our vests while riding we are, by definition, not wearing
  protective clothing for our upper body (i.e., a leather jacket.)

Wear 'em proud, when it makes sense. But while riding on public streets, with rare
exceptions, it doesn't.

                                The Math Is Simple
                                       By James R. Davis

After reading the TIP entitled You Only Hit The Car If You Don't Quite Stop In Time a person
sent me a gentle critique of it as follows:

The general points you make are fine but I think you might want to check your math..

Traffic Engineers have some rules-of-thumb they developed over time. They, for example,
have found that if the street surface is dry, the average person can safely decelerate an
automobile at the rate of 15 feet per second (fps). That is, an average person can slow down
at this rate without any real likelihood that they will loose control in the process.

The measure of velocity is distance divided by time (fps). The measure of acceleration (or
deceleration in this case) is feet/sec/sec in the units you chose.
I believe he was trying to be helpful and was not just taking shots.

As to the measure of deceleration being fpsps rather than fps, I take no issue with that. My
article said that you could '... decelerate .. at the rate of 15 fps' , but I think it is clear from the
context that what I was saying was that regardless of the velocity, say it starts at 88 fps, you
could scrub off 15 fps every second. i.e., after 1 second your velocity would be 73 fps, after 2
seconds it would be 58 fps, etc. For the mathematically inclined it would have been more
accurate to say 'fpsps' rather than 'fps', but possibly more confusing to some.

He went on to say:

It would mean that you could stop your motorcycle in a total of 5.4 seconds (including the 1
second delay.) and your total stopping distance would be only 281.5 feet!
If you'll look at any road test of a current production motorcycle you'll see that stopping
distances from 60 mph are typically 120 - 140 feet. Cages are frequently in the 150 - 180 foot
As to his suggestion that I recheck my math, I did, and obtained the same results.

So that there is no confusion, my message argued the point that by increasing your braking
skills you could significantly reduce both the time it takes to stop and the distance taken to
stop your motorcycle. Further, though I acknowledged that a motorcycle racer could get 1g
deceleration (32 fpsps), or more, a reasonably skilled rider could easily get deceleration rates
in excess of 20 fpsps. And, by contrast, showed what Traffic Engineers use as an assumption
of safely attainable deceleration rates by the average person (15 fpsps).

So, I was not saying that you should (or can) try to get 1g deceleration rates, but that you can
and should get much better braking (safely) than 'average' with just a little practice.

As to the numbers...

To determine how long it will take you to stop assuming a constant rate of deceleration, you
need only divide your starting velocity (in fps) by your rate of deceleration.

60 MPH = 88 fps. (fps=1.467 * MPH). If your deceleration rate is 20 fpsps, then stopping time
= 88/20 = 4.4 seconds. Since there is a 1 second delay in hitting your brakes (recognition and
reaction time), the total time to stop is 5.4 seconds, just as I said.

To determine how far you will travel while braking you take 1/2 the starting velocity and
multiply the result by the stopping time (ie, you calculate your average speed and multiply by
how long you are moving.) In the cited case, this works out to be:

.5 * 88 * 4.4 = 193.6 feet. Since we travelled 88 feet before we hit the brakes, we add that to
193.6 and end up with a total of 281.6 feet, as I said (missed by .1 feet.)

So, how can my numbers be so far off from those reported? Simple. Clearly they are reporting
JUST stopping distance and with deceleration rates of about 1 g. [Rider magazine once
reported the results of stopping a Yamaha from 60 MPH AVERAGED 87 feet in a series of
nine attempts. That was stopping at the rate of over 44 fps/s or approximately 1.3 g.]

Assuming a deceleration rate of 32 fpsps (1g), we calculate a braking stop time of 2.75
seconds (88/32). Distance travelled now is calculated to be 121 feet. (Ignoring the additional
88 feet you travelled before applying your brakes.) This is consistent with published reports,
as he presented them.

The math is easy, the message is too - Skilful braking can save your life.

For those of you that are into math, I full well realize that I used an approximation for distance
travelled when I simplified my formula and assumed an 'average speed'. Since the correct
formula which would take the deceleration rate into account is beyond some of the readers, I
chose to make it simple - because the message is also simple. (Besides, it yields the same

If you are interested, to calculate the distance using deceleration rates you would use:

       x =    x0 + (v0 * t) - (1/2 * a * t²)


        x = distance travelled (feet)
       x0 = starting distance (feet - for example, recognition/reaction
                               distance of 88)
       v0 = initial velocity (feet per second)
        t = stopping time     (seconds)
        a = deceleration rate (feet per second per second)

                 If You Don't Quite Stop In Time
                                    By James R. Davis

It takes most people about 4.5 seconds to read this sentence.

4.5 seconds is not a lot of time - but it could be the rest of your life. 4.5 seconds is also (not
really a coincidence) about how long it SHOULD take you to stop your motorcycle after
applying your brakes at 60 MPH!

Stopping a motorcycle as fast as possible requires that you master only a few fundamentals:

   Alertness - No matter how fast your reflexes are or how skilful you are with your
   brakes, if you don't see the need to stop, you won't.
   Reflexes - First you need time to recognize a threat and decide to react to it, then
   your fast reflexes take over and make the difference.
   Skill - Under-utilizing your brakes is just as dangerous as over-doing it.

Let's get a feel for magnitudes.

It usually takes about .7 seconds to recognize a threat. A person with normal reflexes takes
about .3 seconds to start braking from the moment he realizes he has to do so. Combined,
that's about 1 full second from the time a threat presents itself to you and you begin to slow

At 60 MPH you travel 88 FEET in 1 second!

That it takes you about .7 seconds to recognize the threat is a mental reality. But it does not
necessarily take .3 seconds to react to it. The simple practice of always covering your front
brake can shave a full tenth of a second (1/3!!) of that time away. That's almost 9 FEET!

Assuming you have read the tips on braking methods earlier, you have a good idea about
how to use those brakes. Now let me try to give you a sense of magnitude associated with the
skill part of braking.

Traffic Engineers have some rules-of-thumb they developed over time. They, for example,
have found that if the street surface is dry, the average person can safely decelerate an
automobile at the rate of 15 feet per second per second (fpsps). That is, an average person
can slow down at this rate without any real likelihood that they will lose control in the process.

If the surface is wet they assume a deceleration rate of 10 fpsps is safely attainable by almost

Let's assume a wet street surface and that you are moving at 60 MPH. At a 10 fps
deceleration rate it will take you 8.8 seconds to stop after you begin applying your brakes. (A
total of 9.8 seconds from the time the threat we earlier talked about presents itself.) The
distance you would travel before coming to a complete stop is 475 feet.

If, however, the road is dry, it would take you only a total of 6.9 seconds to stop, (including the
1 second recognition/reaction delay.) and the distance travelled until you came to rest would
be 346 feet.

Clearly the more effective you’re braking is, the less time it takes to stop, and the less
distance travelled.

I think most of you know that your motorcycles can stop more quickly than can an automobile.
Indeed, a professional motorcycle racer can obtain a 1g deceleration rate, or more, on his
motorcycle. (1g deceleration is 32 fpsps.)

With practice, your braking skills should easily allow you to attain deceleration rates in excess
of 20 fpsps. What would that mean in our example threat scenario?

It would mean that you could stop your motorcycle in a total of 5.4 seconds (including the 1
second delay.) and your total stopping distance would be only 281.5 feet!

By enhancing your braking skills with practice you can shave 64.5 feet and 1.5 seconds off
'normal' results. And you could shave off another nearly 9 feet just by covering your brakes.
That brings the distance travelled before stopping down by about 73.5 feet.

73.5 feet is about four car-lengths!

The message is clear: You only hit that car if you don't quite stop in time. You might not hit it
at all if you cover your brakes and practice your braking skills.

                     (Why 75%:25% is incorrect)
                                       By Hoddy Hodson

Mr. Hoddy Hodson sent me this very informative e-mail message today (4/1/96) and I have
included it here for all of you to read because it more than validates my earlier thoughts about
how effective front brakes have become, but also because it speaks with authority about how
this has come about. (JRD)

Many motorcycle instructors, from Part 1 up to Police Advanced, still quote the following old
chestnut: you brake 75% Front and 25% Rear (on a dry road - 50%:50% in the wet).

This advice is also enshrined in Motorcycle Roadcraft and the IAM Group Handbook. So it's a
pity that, nowadays, it is wrong.

Progress changes things.

The 75%:25% rule made its first appearance a LONG time ago. The early diagrams
explaining it show drum braked Triumph Speed Twins, so it's not unfair to assume that the
same 75%:25% rule has been around at least 25 or 30 years.

The old Speed Twins and their ilk had little in common with today's motorcycles. They had a
twin leading shoe front brake of about 7" diameter [I can't find anyone who's old enough to be

certain] operated by a bowden cable from a handbrake lever. The rear brake was single
leading shoe, about 6" diameter, but operated by a sturdy 10" long footbrake lever, by a leg
honed to muscular perfection by kick-starting the damn bike in the first place.

And the tires? They were no wider than the widest mountain bike tires of the 1990s, they were
poorly designed even compared to the car tires of the day (some cars already had tubeless
tires, but all motorcycle tires were high aspect ratio cross-plies). The usual tread pattern was
ribbed front and block rear. And the all important contact patch was long and thin - not least
because the wheels were 20" or more in diameter.

But above everything else, it's the design of motorcycle frames that has changed. The old
Speed Twin and its like were TALL. The vertical engine, surmounted by a spine tube frame
(with enough gap to allow daily tappet adjustment) meant a high riding position. The centre of
gravity of a bike (with rider aboard) in the '60s was probably a foot or more higher than it is on
most 'bikes today.

And there were two sorts of front forks. Rock hard (race 'bikes and those carrying heavy
Rickman fairings) and spongy soft - prone to dive to the fork bottoms under the lightest
braking. The net result of either type was that, under braking, the front went almost rigid - like
a pushbike's forks.

If you've got locked forks, a narrow (low grip) front tyre and a centre of gravity that small
planes have to detour around, it s not surprising that you're cautious of using your front brake.
If that brake is a grabby drum brake (they "self-servo"ed so the braking effort was not
proportional to how hard your hand squeezed the lever) you do as much as you can with the
controllable rear brake. And, anyway, a locked rear was controllable even on a Speed Twin.

New Tricks Motorcycle design has moved on since the old dogs of the 1960s. In fact, it had
already moved on far enough to make the 75%:25% rule questionable by the '80s.

The BIG sign that 75%:25% is wrong is that most 'bikes these days (since the RD350, at
least) can do "stoppies" - and not crash immediately after. In a stoppie you push the front
brake to its limits, you brake so hard that the rear leaves the ground. This is neither big nor
clever; but it does prove to the most hide bound among us that that bike, at that instant, was
stopping using 100% Front brake.

I'd now like you to think about proddy racing. Production racing because (apart from Owen's
missing alternator - sorry, Mr. Scrutineer) the 'bikes used should be the same as those you
meet on the road. Now, I understand that, in a race, most competitors are trying to ride as fast
as they can - they are not there to put on a show of stunt riding to impress the crowd.

Yet, horror of horrors; they do NOT brake 75%:25%. Stand at the braking point at the end of
the straight (do not stand on the bend at the end of the straight: it's where Reg Ford usually
smashes into the crowd). You will see many of the rider lift their rear tire clear of the deck
under maximum braking. They are doing stoppies - they are braking 100% Front and 0%

And they are not doing this deliberately, to show off (apart from Jamie Whitham at the end of
a race!). They are doing it because, nowadays, it's the natural, instinctive way to brake as
hard as the 'bike can possibly brake.

What's new, Pussycat? Modern motorcycles (as above, this includes most road 'bikes
designed since the RD350) are radically different from that old Speed Twin. The few that
aren't, Retros like the Zephyr and trail 'bikes, probably still brake 75%:25%.

[Apparently, one of the first things Geraint Jones teaches on his Moto-X school is how to
brake . You do this by learning to stop a motocrosser from 50mph, on mud, using only the
front brake. So, even on the dirt, there's scope for more front brake use - if you have the

Modern bikes are lower - by about a foot (compare a GPZ500 with a 750 Triumph - the GPZ
is more powerful, too). Modern bikes tend to be shorter, by around 5 inches. We have smaller
wheels these days - fronts are 16" to 19" they used to be 18" to 21". And wheel widths, and
hence the contact patches, are at least twice as wide as they used to be. The modern tires
are stickier - even in the wet. And they are radials (or bias belted) so they deform to grip the
road far better. And the low sidewalls help the 'bike's centre of gravity stay low.

And front suspension, even if you don't have upside down fork legs, is ten times better at
absorbing ripples that might upset a tyre under braking.


You'll notice I haven't mentioned the brakes. I think the grabbiness of 1960's brakes, and the
need to stand on that big footbrake lever, is one of the root causes of the 75%:25% rule. That
was how people found they had to brake, so they assumed it was the best way to brake.

Since then, Triumph have died; been reborn; died again and been reborn as a far better bike.
Rules for braking written to suit the 1990s SpeedTriple would differ a lot from those written for
the Speed Twin of the '60s.

But the masters of motorcycle design are the Japanese. Now, believe it or not, they tend to
design things to do their job. Very occasionally they screw up, but most things they get right.
Mudguards keep the mud off. Foot pegs don't bend under your weight. You can reach the
levers and the switches at the same time. [The old Triumphs, sad to relate, didn't manage any
of these things].

So we'd expect modern Japanese bikes to have brakes suited to their function - stopping the
bike as quickly as possible. So, how do they set up their brakes?

       Front        Two 320mm disks, each gripped by 6-piston callipers.
       Rear         One 220mm disk, gripped by a 2-piston calliper.
(These specs are from the new Kawasaki 750, but just about any 1995 or '96 Superbike has a
similar setup).

At a conservative estimate, the front brakes are 5 times as powerful as the rear (remember
the diameter of the disk has a big effect). And I'd bet that the foot lever is now as short as the
handbrake lever.

So why have the Japanese fitted brakes so out of line with the 75%:25% rule? Are they
foolish? Is it some sort of "look at the size of my brakes, darling" fashion accessory? Or is the
75%:25% rule just plain wrong these days?

Answer: the 75%:25% rule *is* just plain wrong these days (for most modern 'bikes on most
dry roads).

What's the truth? The truth is, there is NO truth. Any fixed apportionment of braking effort,
front to rear is wrong. In cars, they teach taper braking - you bring the pressure up gently, to
avoid a skid until the weight transfers forwards; at which point you can brake hard; and you let
it off gently as you roll to a halt, to avoid a jerk when you stop.

'Bikers, too, need to learn taper braking. But as we have separate front and rear brakes, we
also need to learn to taper the force from rear to front and back to rear again as we slow.

[Owners of Moto Guzzi and Honda linked brake systems can leave now - but remember, as
you depart, that racing Guzzis always removed the linked brakes - they aren't quite as good
as separate systems right at the limit.]

An ideal stop goes something like this:

   You apply both brakes gradually and with almost equal force for the first phase of
   your braking.
   The weight will transfer forwards as the front suspension compresses, and your
   arms bend.
   There's now more weight on the front (up to 100% if you're braking at 1g - and
   modern road bikes can brake at up to 1.2g).
   You now let off most - or all - of the rear brake and increase pressure on the front,
   which now has most or the entire grip. This middle phase of braking can be
   100%:0% - if it is less than 85% Front, you probably aren't braking near your bike's
   The bike slows and the forces you are exerting through the brakes and tires
   diminish (the energy in the bike is proportional to the square of your speed).
   The front begins to rise back up on its suspension.
   [If it's an emergency, you now breathe a sigh of relief and a small prayer of thanks].
   You taper off on the front brake - to prevent a slow speed lock up - and increase the
   rear brake pressure once more.
   Even stopping from 100mph, the last 5mph is slow riding, and you should only use
   the rear brake for slow riding. So you do the final phase of stopping 0% Front and
   100% rear.

If you MUST quote a fixed apportionment of effort - I'd say it is 85%:15% - which is in line with
the way Japanese 'bike designers set up the brakes.

But the truth is, situations will vary which is why we should forget 75%:25%. Motorcyclists
need to learn to taper brake; to balance front and rear brakes in a sensitive, reactive fashion -
not to follow an outdated mathematical tenet.

And, to slip in two quick plugs - you can learn how at the Nurburgring Perfektion Training
courses or on London Advanced Motorcyclist's Machine Control Days.

Hoddy Hodson                     29/3/96

This article expresses the views of the author. All care and due diligence has been take in its
composition and I fully believe it to be correct, but then I think water is wet, so who am I to
judge. Feel free to copy and circulate this article, but only with this disclaimer!

                          Determined By Speed
                                    By James R. Davis

We have all heard that 'up to 70% of your stopping power comes from the front brake.' Not
desiring to start another war, but it is my opinion that this is historic information - up to 100%
of your stopping power comes from your front brake now!

                         With today's modern brakes and tire compounds it is entirely
                         possible, with speed and good road surfaces, to get so much
                         stopping power with the front brake that you can break your rear
                         wheel entirely off the ground (known as a 'stoppie'). [This is not good.
                         <g> Not to worry, in a later article I will demonstrate that it is virtually
                         impossible to do a 'stoppie' with a GoldWing.] But raising the rear
                         wheel off the ground at high speeds is not the typical problem with
                         over-applying your front brake - it is locking the front wheel and
                         dumping the bike at slow speeds.

So? Well, traditional training argues that for most effective braking you should try to obtain
about 75% of your stopping from the front and 25% from the rear if the road is dry, and 50%
from the front and 50% from the rear if the road is wet. This might no longer be the best
advice because speed is not being considered.

That is, in my opinion, the advice should better focus on what you should do at various
speeds. For example, if you are moving at less than about 20 MPH, regardless of the
condition of the road surface, virtually all of your stopping can be derived from the rear brake,
and if the road surface demands it (slippery, grass, loose gravel, etc.) exclusively. [I advocate
using BOTH brakes virtually every time - I am here only arguing that you can rely on the rear
brake for most of your stopping at slow speeds - not that you should only use your rear
brake.] The slower you go, the more likely your front brakes will grab - thus, you should not be
trying to get 75%, or more, of your stopping power from the front brake at slow speeds. (We
have already talked about how fast a bike goes down if the front brake locks.)

When moving faster than 20 MPH then traditional advice (75%/25% or 50%/50%) applies
depending on road surface condition, paying particular attention to NEVER applying brakes
so quickly that you lock either of them, and that during hard braking you should tend to ease
up on the rear brake as weight shifts towards the front wheel.

The next Tip argues this far more clearly, and suggests 75%/25% should now be more like
85%/15%. More importantly, it describes 'Taper Braking' as a method to be used at all times. I
fully endorse that thinking.

                                     By James R. Davis

A couple of years ago a friend of ours joined us on a 1,200 mile tour. She is a conscientious
lady and wanted to make sure her motorcycle was ready and safe before we left, so she took
her Wing to a dealer and had them do some work on it for her. Among other things, she had
her rear brakes worked on because they seemed to 'stick a little'. She picked up the bike just
before our trip. That nearly cost her life.

In the case of our friend, they charged her for the brake work, but later investigation shows
that it was never done at all. Even if it had been, it makes no sense at all to depend on recent
mechanical work while out on a tour. Far better, test the bike for several hundred miles before
taking that tour.

Our friend's rear brakes locked up 1,100 miles into the tour with us and she did a high-side at
50 MPH.

So, this time a few hundred miles of testing would not have discovered the problem. But what
about the next time?

It seems to me that the above does not quite put this message in perspective. So, try this

Yesterday Elaine picked up her bike from the dealer after they had done some major work on
it for her. She had the cams and lifters replaced on the right side of the block. She road the
bike home and commented to me that the bike had never felt so good and smooth to her. She
was thrilled with the work.

Today we took the bikes out for a couple hundred miles in order to lay out and pre-ride a
poker run we are responsible for in a couple of weeks. We got a total of 12 miles under our
belts before the engine blew.

Elaine was going 70 MPH and was in the fast lane of a four lane wide freeway. She heard a
metallic grind, then the left side of her engine housing disappeared. The bolt holding the
flywheel backed out and ripped the metal casing apart in the process. Oil sprayed out to the
left and saturated her chaps and boot. About two quarts were lost in a matter of seconds.

Elaine signalled that she was going to pull off the freeway by going left into the centre median.
I saw from behind her what had happened and insisted that she move RIGHT instead.
Secured each lane and we did just that - moved right across four lanes and off the side of the
road. I am greatly impressed with Elaine's calmness during this experience. She did not
freeze. She did not panic. She did not 'hit her brakes'. Instead, she smoothly eased her bike
to the right and got it off the freeway without losing control.

[Lest any reader doubt the wisdom of moving four lanes to the right instead of one lane to the
left, I remind you that the oil was gushing out on the left side. If she had gone left to exit the
freeway she would have risked riding over that oil with her back tire. When we stopped and
got off the bikes it was still dripping major amounts of oil beneath her bike.]

The mechanic who did the work on her bike is world class! He insisted after seeing what had
happened, and turning white as a sheet, that they had not been anywhere near that part of
the engine to replace the cams and lifters. Nevertheless, he promised to fix the bike at his
cost because 'it looks bad for us.'

Elaine asked me if I believe the guy. I do. I put my life into his hands whenever I give him my
bike for work. By definition I believe this man. He will not eat the whole job, I assure you.

But the message should be crystal clear now: Do your maintenance long before you do your
tour. Use your newly maintained bike for at least 100 miles before you leave home.

Even the best 'wrench' makes mistakes. Those that are not the best make more of them.

                                               By James R. Davis

You're out on a tour and 400+ miles are behind you. Every hour or so you have made a pit
stop for gas and/or food. Now you're really getting tired. Time for a cup of coffee, right?


Coffee, Coke, No-Doze and other stimulants/drugs DO NOT WORK to keep you alert when
you're tired. Better, find a place to stop and take a nap. Even half an hour is sufficient to re-
charge your battery enough to let you go on, if you need to.

Better still, find a place to stop for the rest of the day and get a normal night's sleep.

Though I have done more than 600 miles in a day, in terrible weather, I find that I can sustain
any number of days on the road so long as I don't average more than 350 per day - and make
plenty of stops along the way. (If you are planning a long leg on your tour I suggest you make
it for the first or second day. Later than that and the odds are you will not be able to complete
it safely.) Coffee and drugs are no substitute for getting some rest when you need it, and a
little thoughtful planning of your itinerary will help as well.

                                     By James R. Davis

                   Lane position should be chosen based, among other things, on establishing
                   escape routes, making yourself visible to others, staying out of the blind
                   spots of other vehicles, and road conditions. What is often overlooked, in my
                   opinion, is the concept of 'controlling your lane'.

                   For example, assume you are riding on surface streets in a city and are
                   stopped at a traffic light preparing to make a right turn. Logic suggests that
                   you should be in the right track of your lane, but it is safer, I suggest, being
                   closer to the left track.

Why? Because while nearer the left track of your lane you CONTROL the lane. There are
people that upon seeing you in the right track with your right turn signal flashing will slide their
vehicles into the lane beside you and try to share the lane - to get a jump off the line when the
light changes.

That you only have two wheels is of no consequence - you OWN the whole lane that they
would try to share with you. If you were to change your mind and elect to not make that right

turn, you would be in trouble. Worse, should that sharing vehicle actually decide to make a
right turn too, you could easily be forgotten (in his blind spot) and he could drive right over you
while making that turn.

Controlling your lane is as important as any other consideration when you choose your lane

                                     By James R. Davis

All experienced group riders know that each individual in the group is responsible for their
own safety. They know that in every group, one of them has the least experience or
skill/control. Generally, they know that the group should ride to the skills of the least common
denominator - the least experienced, or least skilled/controlled.

But sometimes you join a group for a ride and many if not all of them are strangers.
Sometimes a new member joins your group and you have no idea what their skill level or
experience might be. This should be a serious concern to the lead bike (often called the Road
Captain - though not necessarily so.)

Since it's up to the lead bike to set the pace, how can that be done without knowing what the
least common denominator is? Clearly this is an argument for a pre-ride meeting and some
questions designed to find out as much as you can about who you are riding with.

But realities are such that even if you try to find out who has the least experience or least
skill/control, the odds are that you will have trouble doing so. People have 'face', after all.
People are reluctant to be seen as the weakest of the group. Worse, and we have seen tragic
results of this recently, some people honestly believe they have better skills/control than they
really do and are quite convincing about it with others.

From a lead bike point of view, a solution is readily at hand - always place a new member of
the group in the last right-track position (sometimes called the 'slot') in front of the drag bike
and have the drag bike observe how that person actually rides. Once the drag bike advises
the lead bike that the new person demonstrates adequate skill/control then that person is
freed to ride anywhere they want to in the group. Until everybody in the group is at least seen
to have reasonable skills/control while riding with the group, the lead bike has no business
pushing any limits.

But the heading of this message regards peer pressure, and I would like to talk briefly about
group dynamics that are dangerous precisely because of peer pressure. Even assuming that
everyone in a group is well known to each other, there is still a least experienced, least
skilled/controlled person there. That person usually feels that he/she has very little choice but
to try to 'keep up', to try to not hold the rest of the group back. If nothing else, they often think
that 'stretching' themselves is a learning experience.

And while it is definitely a learning experience, if you survive it, 'keeping up', or not holding the
rest of the group back should NOT be part of the equation!! A brave person will acknowledge

their weaknesses and not push the envelope aggressively, even if it means that the rest of the
group will recognize those weaknesses. A smart person believes absolutely that THEY are
responsible for their own ride/safety - and not incidentally, in not being a potential hazard to
anyone else. These people ignore peer pressure to the point that they might not fit into a
particular group - and that's just fine for all concerned!

But peer pressure is NOT the real danger - there is always peer pressure (sometimes
thoughtless, sometimes just good natured competition, sometimes no more than shared
courtesy.) It is YOUR OWN PERSONAL pressure to perform that can be dangerous. I call
that your 'head'.

What I'm getting at is mental 'rightness' - being ready and prepared to do what you are about
to do, and knowing it.

If your head is not 'right', STOP and get it 'right' before you go another two feet on your

After more than 30 years of riding motorcycles there are times when I simply feel that I cannot
safely do something that I have done a thousand times before - sometimes the most trivial of
things. For example, a few years ago I was on a tour to Tulsa, Oklahoma and our group had
just finished a pit stop and were on our way back onto the road. We were on a parking lot that
had a driveway with a relatively severe dip in it as it joined the main road where we then had
to make a hard right turn to get underway. All the bikes ahead of me did just fine with that dip.
But when it was my turn to negotiate that driveway I decided that my head was not 'right' and
stopped my bike. I radioed to the lead bike that I would catch up in a moment, nothing was
wrong. One minute later my head was 'right', confidence restored, and I took off and joined
the group. Trivial embarrassment is nothing compared to an accident.

There is no doubt in my mind at all (NOW) that I could have made that exit from the parking
lot without a problem. But this is one experienced rider that is not ashamed to say that when
my head is 'wrong', I stop and wait until it gets 'right'.

Peer pressure is easy - you aren't.

                                      By James R. Davis

Some people call them 'crash bars', some 'case guards', still others call them 'engine guards' -
- but, until recently, nobody 'officially' has called them 'leg guards' or 'leg protectors'.

I don't know a single motorcyclist that would argue that they are not a good thing to have on a
motorcycle, and I know quite a few that have added them to their motorcycles if they did not
come stock.

So, it might surprise you to know the following facts:

   There is a genuine dispute in the scientific community as to whether leg guards do
   more harm than good.
   No government or agency thereof has ever required them.
   No independent testing or professional organization has ever recommended them.
   (Until recently.)
   The motorcycle industry as a whole categorically rejects the need for leg guards.
   Honda's own testing on their use reached no definitive conclusions.

How can this be?

On May 30, 1995 in the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, an appeal was heard in
the case of James Satcher versus Honda Motor Company (No. 94-60492). In the written
opinion of that court is found a summary which listed those facts.

You can read the opinion here.

It is an interesting read that describes a case where Satcher lost a leg in a motorcycle
accident and sued Honda claiming that since Honda made the motorcycle without leg guards
they made a product that was defective and unreasonably dangerous in a crash.

Following are two paragraphs from that opinion that should cause you to wonder:

Honda presented two well-qualified experts, John Snider and Warner Riley, who opined that
leg guards should not be used because their safety benefits are outweighed by their safety
disadvantages, including the possibility of greater upper body injuries. For example, Riley
explained that the problem with unpadded robust bars is that they can cause the cyclist to
leave the motorcycle and land upside down, and that padded crash bars increase in-flight
whiplash, which can result in a broken neck. They were also of the view that in this particular
accident Satcher would not have benefited from crash bars. There is a disagreement in the
scientific community as to whether head impact increases when crash bars are used.

Honda itself conducted certain crash tests in the 1960's. One report concluded that at certain
speeds crash bars are effective at reducing leg impact in an angled collision. However, it
found that in broadside collisions "there seems to be an indication that each of the various
body area impacts is greater in the case of motorcycles equipped with crash bars than in the
case of those which are not," and that a commercially available crash bar "has no protective
effect or it has a possible reverse effect in broadside collision[s]." This conclusion was
disputed by Ezra as not supported by Honda's own experimental data. The report also noted
that it was far from definitive.*fn4 A Honda chief engineer testified that "thus far we have
created, tested, evaluated various experimental devices; however, we have yet to come up
with a ... practical as well as effective device that would protect the leg."

So, I ask the question in good faith:

Since I know no rider who believes that guards are not a good idea, including myself, how is it
that the facts presented to the court suggest otherwise? How could our perceptions be so
wrong or misguided? Or are they?

[At this point I should like to advise you that several motorcyclists have told me that their
perception has always been that these guards are to protect the motorcycle, not the rider.
They advise that 'only non-riders' think they are any good at protecting rider or passenger.]

It is clear to me that at least on the GoldWings the case guards (that wrap around the engine
heads) provide very little in the way of leg protection. Motorcycles that have larger/wider
guards (where you tend to mount highway pegs), therefore, must do something more - at
least one thing they do is provide a measure of leg protection. Rear guards are designed to

protect the bags, but they are obviously capable of providing some measure of protection to
the passenger's legs as well.

On many motorcycles none of these guards exist at all. Engine guards could easily be added
that tend to protect the engine, but most riders that add them obtain guards wide enough so
that if the bike is on its side the leg is not crushed.

It is understood, at least by me, that none of these guards provide much in the way of leg
protection in the event of an accident (at least from impact damage), but if they keep a laid
down bike from crushing a leg surely you would agree that is a good thing?

That same court case discussed 'leg guards' and 'crash bars' on police motorcycles:

Police crash bars are used in part to hold lights or other accessories needed on police
vehicles. Their efficacy as a safety device is the subject of disagreement. Kenneth Harms, a
former Miami police chief with experience on the motorcycle patrol and in investigating
motorcycles accidents, believes that police crash guards, particularly those used on Harley-
Davidson motorcycles, are effective in reducing injuries. Harms conceded that he had no
scientific or engineering expertise in motorcycle design. Harley-Davidson has expressly
recommended against the use of crash bars on its police motorcycles.

Once again you see a difference of opinion. A police chief says they reduce injuries,
particularly on Harley Davidson's while Harley Davidson recommends against using them.

Odd, no?

Some of you now are prone to argue that what you hear in court consists of lies and
misrepresentations - designed to benefit one side or the other. I don't think either side is
telling lies. Rather, I think the manufacturers are soooo frightened by litigation that they are
forced to take the position that engine guards are not necessary/important in protecting legs
from injury lest they be sued by owners of all their products that were sold without them. I
think that rather than telling lies they are slanting their testimony with evidence that, in good
faith, tends to minimize their liability.

That is a far cry from being unbiased and telling all there is to tell. But they have no obligation
to do either, in court.

[I happen to think our judicial system works pretty well - because we have a jury system that
allows two sides to present evidence that is biased, by definition, and then the jury gets to

Not all motorcyclists believe as I do that crash bars are better to have than not. The famous
Harry Hurt study, for example, states:

Crash bars are not an effective injury countermeasure; the reduction of injury to the ankle-foot
is balanced by increase of injury to the thigh-upper leg, knee, and lower leg.

Note that this was one finding of a study of some 900 REPORTED accidents. I suspect that
had the study known about all instances of leg injury caused from a motorcycle being laid
down the conclusion would have been different.

On the other hand, a very current study (February of 1995) performed in England by the
Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) had very different conclusions:

Our research shows that properly designed leg protectors could reduce the severity of, or
even eliminate, at least 25% of leg injuries without increasing injuries to other parts of the
body. In some cases, they could save lives.

Contrary to the arguments of the major motorcycle manufacturers cited earlier, TRL went on
to say:

An important factor in this research has been to ensure that if leg protection is to be of benefit
not only must leg injuries be reduced, but the potential for injuries to other parts of the body,
particularly the head, must not be increased. In all the tests the potential for leg injuries and
head injuries has been carefully analysed. At no time has leg protection worsened the
potential for head injury, or injury to other parts of the body, and in some instances there has
been a significant reduction in this potential.

Further, the British government has proposed a European Commission (EC) Initiative that
may someday result in a requirement for these devices.

Below is a picture of a Houston rider who is walking away from a very serious accident in
which he low-sided his '97 Magna at about 35 MPH and rode it to a stop. He claims that the
guards that he added two days after he bought the bike saved his right leg. I believe him.
(Note also that he rides with full leathers and a full-face helmet. He knows how to be

So, I want to add an observation that I have made many times, especially to cagers who
suggest that they would not ride a motorcycle because they provide 'no protection' in case of
an accident.

No motorcyclist has ever had to be extracted using the 'Jaws of Life', nor has an airbag
decapitated him. Think about it...

                                      By James R. Davis

And, with the colder weather the odds are that many of you have begun wearing leather
chaps and heavier jackets. Though pretty expensive, there's ample proof that these provide
far more than protection from the cold.

In studies of 'survivability' of various garment materials to a 50 MPH ride on asphalt, for
example, denim lasted no more than FOUR FEET before wearing through. Kevlar, on the
other hand, lasted EIGHTEEN FEET. But standard motorcycle quality (about three times
heavier than fashion jacket material) lasted EIGHTY-SIX FEET. That's more than 20 times as
effective as your jeans in protecting your hide.

[The tests were reported in the September 1988 issue of Cycle magazine.]

                                      By James R. Davis

We have all ridden in cold weather and despite having heavy gloves, possibly including extra
liners, those fingers get too cold and begin to numb.

(By the way, I have found that silk liners offer better cold weather protection than heavier cloth

So, what to do about it?

Here is a tip that my partner, Elaine Anthony, came up with a couple of years ago when we
were out on the last leg (612 miles) of a week on the road and it was so cold that our fingers
began to get numb. We pulled to the side of the road, got off our bikes, and dug into our first-
aid kits. We pulled out a set of latex gloves and put them on over the liners, then put our
regular gloves on over the latex gloves. It's amazing how effective that simple idea turned out
to be.

(You do carry latex gloves in your first-aid kit, right?)

                                    By James R. Davis

For those that have been riding more than a year it probably is not new news, so consider it
just a reminder.

Regardless of whether or not you have an indicator that says your bike is in neutral, ALWAYS
hold your clutch all the way in when starting your bike.

Next, and this one can save you pain and damage to the bike: ALWAYS hold your front brake
(HARD) before dropping the bike into gear - even when your clutch is being held all the way

Because you have a wet clutch, cold weather causes your oil to thicken and your
clutch/flywheel tend to stick together after sitting for several hours with the engine off.
Because of this, merely holding your clutch lever fully engaged is no assurance that when you
drop into gear the bike will not jump forward unless you are firmly braked.

                                    By James R. Davis

Riding when the temperature is well in excess of 90 degrees can be dangerous to your
health. Unless you take care to keep your body temperature under control even rides as short
as an hour can result in heat-prostration or even sun-stroke.

Many riders know that if you keep your neck cool, because the large veins that feed your
brain are so close to the surface, you greatly diminish these health risks. There are two very
popular devices that are simple and effective in this regard.

One is called a 'cool collar' and is made from a tube of bandana material that contains some
water absorbing beads sewn into it. The beads increase in size about 50 TIMES over when
they are dry. Thus, when dry, these collars store easily and take up very little room. But
getting them wet is not as easy as it sounds. That is, you have to take a dry collar and
submerge it in water for up to 1 hour before it has absorbed all the water it can. That hour is
often not available to you when you need it.

The reason the collar works to cool you off is that it takes even longer for the beads to dry out
than it did to get them wet. That is, water will evaporate from them over a several hour period.

Any evaporation activity cools - but only marginally so from the wearer's point of view. That is,
within half an hour of putting one of these collars around your neck, even if it had been in a
freezer before you put it on, the collar will be very nearly at the temperature of the air around

Far better than these 'cool collars', I have found, is the original design of them (sometimes
called 'Kool Kollars'). These are usually made of terry-cloth sewn together in such a way as to
contain a pocket into which a zip-lock bag is placed. These are filled with ice! This type of
collar REALLY cools your neck as the ice melts, AND they drip cool water. That dripping
leaves the front and back of your shirt sopping wet over time which provides a huge source of
evaporation - i.e., it helps to COOL!

At every pit stop you make you can refill the 'Kollar' with ice (just pour in a glass of ice water,
ice and all).

The bead filled collar cannot be rapidly cooled again once it has gotten warm. Thus, you
usually find that people that use them have two - one of which is always sitting in an ice-

One more way to handle high heat - those of you that wear skull-caps (helmet liners) can
simply saturate them with water before putting them on. This works very well indeed, for
about half an hour.

Further, of course, simply pouring water on your shirt helps a great deal - again, because it
provides a huge area over which evaporation takes place.

While on the subject let me remind you that your wet shirt is not the only large area that
evaporates - all of your exposed skin does the same. Thus, you NEED to DRINK lots of fluids

                                     By James R. Davis

Maybe you think that might be a bit of an exaggeration? Nope.

Yesterday Elaine and I participated in the third annual Lime Run hosted by the Lone Star
Ladies. It turns out that we manned one of the stops on the run which meant that we were in
the sun all day long. We used a sunblock on our faces, necks and arms so that we would not
get 'over-done'.

We had about a 100 mile ride to get home. 12 miles from home I went blind, at 70 MPH!

One minute all was right with the world, the next instant both my eyes stung and gushed tears
so badly that I was forced to shut them both completely - blinking did not help - I could not see
a thing!

I slowed down and hit my Push To Talk button: "Elaine, we have to stop - I have something in
my eyes!"

Mind you that I was wearing a full-face helmet, glasses, and the shield was down on the
helmet. It didn't exactly make any sense to me either - how could something get into my eyes
like that?

Elaine happened to be driving her cage rather than her bike yesterday and was in front of me.
Fortunately we had put a hand-held CB into her car that very day! She slowed and steered
interference for me for about a quarter of a mile.

With one of my eyes totally shut and the other blinking rapidly (and painfully), I managed to be
able to see enough to guide the bike one lane to the right on the freeway, then mercifully
there was an off ramp right in front of us - we took it.

Off the freeway we pulled right into a vacant lot off the access road and again I was unable to
open either eye. I felt for the kickstand and got it in place just as she jumped out of her car
and came back to see what was wrong. Not sure if I was level or not, I wanted both hands to
stay on the handlebars and asked her to take my glasses off for me.

Tears poured down my face from both eyes - not from the pain, though there was plenty of
that, but from whatever was in my eyes. Elaine ran to her car and got a bottle of water and a
handful of Kleenex tissues for me. I washed my eyes with the water and then applied the
tissues and all was instantly well again!

It turns out that some of the sunblock on my nose had vaporized with the heat in my helmet
and my dark glasses wrap around my head and touch my face all around my eyes - keeping
the vapour in.

The message is simple: If you use sunblock on your face be sure to wipe it off before putting
your helmet on! (Incidentally, you can buy sports-oriented sunblock products that purport not
to sting your eyes.)

Sunblock can kill you. Honest.

                                   By James R. Davis

As just one more example of how an experienced drag bike can add considerably to the
safety of a group ride, take the case of your group riding along and seeing a sign that shows
that either the right or left lane is about to be lost.

Normally, the lead bike will position the group so that they are in the remaining lane well
before the other lane collapses. The danger, of course, comes when some vehicle tries to
sneak ahead of the group by racing along that collapsing lane and runs out of road. He has
no alternative then but to jam his way into the middle of the group.

An effective lead-bike/drag-bike team cures this problem before it happens. As soon as either
of them realizes that one of the lanes is going to disappear the drag bike is asked to, or
merely announces that he is going to, 'close the door'. While the group is positioned into the
continuing lane, the drag bike rides, by himself, in the collapsing lane. As soon as the
collapsing lane has disappeared, the group is once again 'family'.

                                     By James R. Davis

While a tour group is highly dependant upon the skills and judgment of the lead bike's rider, in
many ways they are more dependant on the drag bike for successfully arriving at their

Let's first discuss the drag bike's obvious role during group lane changing maneuvers. Almost
always, a lane change is initiated by the lead bike, but there are times when the drag bike
should do so. For example, if the group is travelling on a freeway and the drag bike observes
that an 18-wheeler is harassing the group (tailgating or honking its horn), the proper response
of the drag bike is to increase the distance between himself and the next bike in front of him
and to radio ahead to the lead bike recommending an immediate lane change to the right, and

If the lead bike requests a lane change, the drag bike must first determine that it is safe to do
so. If it is not, he must tell the lead why he is unwilling or cannot do so at this time. That is, the
drag bike determines if and when a lane change that is requested by the lead bike is to
happen. (Note that if the group moves into a slower moving lane from front to back, much like
a normal car passing manoeuvre, the lead bike does not request a lane change at all - he
announces it - and the drag bike's responsibility is to announce when the manoeuvre is

[Important! The proper response from the drag bike to a request to obtain a new lane for the
group should ALWAYS be: "Stand By". To say something like "OK" can be confused by some
to mean the lane has been obtained and it is time to move over. It is NOT safe to change
lanes until the drag bike subsequently says "The lane has been secured - following the red
car", or something to that effect. If the drag bike denies the request for a lane change he has
already told the lead bike (and all listeners) to 'stand by' and so merely then updates that
advisory with why the request is denied.]

Assuming it is safe to change lanes, the drag bike moves into the requested lane and signals
the lead bike that it has been obtained. He must also advise as to the traffic situation as it
relates to the lane change.

Additional responsibilities of the drag bike: checking that all bikes have raised their side
stands when the group begins its ride; assisting any member that is forced to leave the group
for mechanical, medical, or personal reasons (lost confidence, for example); observing the
riding performance of all of the other bikes to determine if there might be a particular rider
who is mismatched in terms of riding skills compared to the group; watching for any unsafe
driving habits of individual riders or the group at large; 'closing the door' in situations where a
lane is about to be lost; and to watch and report any lighting, tire or luggage problems with
any of the bikes in the group.

Being at the back of the group, the drag bike is in the ideal position to perform these
responsibilities and having these responsibilities requires that the drag bike is best prepared
to honour them. The drag bike should have a comprehensive first aid kit, fire extinguisher, the
ability to turn on blinking warning lights, and reliable communications capability. The drag bike
rider should be currently trained in first aid and CPR as well as having attended an MSF
Experienced Rider Course (ERC).

If a member has failed to raise his kickstand, a quick radio broadcast by the drag bike gets
that problem fixed before the group moves at all.

When the group makes a stop, the drag bike sees all the stop lights and will report any that
are failing. He does the same if he sees failing turn indicators (or those that are left on).
Luggage that has slipped, trunk or bags that are left open or have their latches spring open,
will be observed and reported by an alert drag bike. (These are things that each member of
the group should watch for in behalf of all the bikes ahead of them.)

If a bike must leave the group for any reason, it's the drag bike that must determine if
assistance is required and to provide it, if necessary. If a member of the group must stop at
the side of the road, the drag bike will stop with him, radioing the situation to the lead bike (so
that a new drag bike can be designated and the group can find a safe place to leave the
road.) If a major problem exists the drag bike radios ahead and asks the lead bike to furnish
whatever additional assistance is required. For example, BEFORE starting CPR, a quick
medical alert must be broadcast so that the lead bike can arrange for trained assistance. By
the way, all else being equal, this is why one should choose a drag bike that has a co-rider -
to allow constant radio support while first aid attention is being rendered.

During the ride the drag may well see that one of the group's members slows down
dramatically when entering curves. This is a sure sign that that rider is being pushed beyond
his individual riding skills. The drag bike should take it upon himself to do two things in this

   He should request the lead bike to slow down
   He should be sure that the individual having the control (or confidence) problems is
   moved towards the back of the group, preferably to the last position in the group
   that rides in the 'slot' (right half of the lane). This change of group position is often
   best done when the group makes its next stop, but sometimes it must be done

If the drag bike observes that a rider does not appear to have control of his bike adequate to
continue the ride as a member of the group, then he MUST so advise the lead bike and
request that the group make an immediate stop to resolve the problem. In almost all cases
the resolution will involve INSISTING that the impaired bike leave the group and be escorted
to a safe destination. It is typical that the drag bike will act as the escort.

In severe cases, typically those involving drugs, alcohol, or medical problems, the impaired
driver must not be allowed to drive their bikes at all, if they can be stopped, and one of the co-
riders might be asked to drive it to a safe place for overnight storage, for example. In this case

the impaired driver should NOT be allowed to assume co-rider status!! Some other form of
transportation needs to be arranged.

If either the lead or the drag bike insists that an individual not be allowed to ride with the
group, the group MUST NOT allow that individual to continue to ride with them. If the
individual in question refuses to leave, then the group should simply stop and not proceed
while he continues to remain.

The lead and drag bikes are a team designated by the group to conduct them safely to their
destination. These are not symbolic positions. They require maturity, experience, training,
cooperation, good communications, and good judgment. And, occasionally, your thanks.

                              The Best Examples
                                     By James R. Davis

I have read that mounting a motorcycle from the right side is 'OK' and for proof the poster
pointed out that the motorcycle police in California are required to do so.

While I believe it is true that at least the California Highway Patrol requires their motorcycle
officers to use the right side to both mount and dismount their machines that is hardly an
example one should draw heavy conclusions from. It may suggest that if you pull to the side
of a freeway and want to dismount you might be safer getting on and off on the right side
based on traffic risk, but that does not infer that it is generally safer to do so.

Your side stand provides a WIDE tripod footprint (unlike your centre stand) that virtually
guarantees your bike will not fall over if you lean against it. (This, by the way, is why it is far
safer to leave your bike on its side stand than it is to put it on its centre stand in a storm.) You
would court dumping the bike if it was not LEANING heavily on its side stand when you
mounted it (as when the bike is parked on a slope to the right.) Similarly, mounting from the
right tends to relieve pressure from the side stand unless you 'hop' onto your left foot before
your fanny hits the seat. Worse, your right foot is planted firmly on the ground when you do
that and if the bike were to fall over you could not get away from it.

This is not a challenge of the motorcycle police. But they are hardly the best role models for
most of us. Consider that despite the fact that full-face helmets are demonstrably safer than
3/4 or smaller shells, there is not a single motorcycle policeman in the entire country that
wears one. Also please observe that keeping two hands on the grips is obviously safer than
riding with only one in control. This is why those of us with CB's have a PTT button within
reach of a finger on the left hand without removing that hand from the grip. Yet some of our
motorcycle police still use a hand microphone. (I'm told that in California - and probably most
everywhere else - most motorcycle police officers now use helmet mounted microphones and
conventional left-thumb activated PTT switches - their helmet cords disconnect easily as they
leave their bikes.)

The answer to these apparently less safe practices of our motorcycle officers is that they have
different risks to manage than we street riders do. They do not want to lose visual contact with
a suspect for the brief time it takes to remove a full-face helmet (nor do they want to occupy
both hands taking a helmet off.) They must often leave their bikes FAST and a
microphone/speaker cord going to their helmets could cost them their lives if they had to deal
with them at a vulnerable time. They tend to work busy freeways and mount/dismount their
bikes frequently at the side of the road. (And, of course, they mount and dismount on the right
to put their bikes between themselves and a possible bullet from the driver of the car in front
of them.)

All I'm saying is that suggesting that a motorcycle officer be used as a role model for how to
behave on your street machine is a bad choice. It is clearly safer (except, perhaps, on the
side of a freeway) to mount and dismount your bike from the left. It is safer to ride with a full-
face helmet than a smaller shell. It is safer to use a built-in microphone than a hand-held.

But then again, it is safer not being a motorcycle officer in any event.

        That Will Keep You Alive On City Streets
                                     By James R. Davis

Of all the things that we learn being out on the streets with our bikes, one stands out as the all
time life-saver in my book.

   If you can avoid it, never enter an intersection without another vehicle on your right

(It should be noted that this advice assumes you ride in a country where people drive on the
right side of the road.)

If you have to slow down in order to let a vehicle catch up with you on the right side, or if you
have to increase speed a little so that you catch up with another vehicle, having one on your
right side is as safe as it gets for entering an intersection.

Obviously this also means that if you are stopped at a traffic light and it turns green, you enter
the intersection when the vehicle on your right does - no jack rabbit jumps if you want to live.

Too tame? Could be, but this rider likes it that way. In fact, I'd rather that the vehicle on my
right was a bus or even an 18-wheeler.

By the way, it is safer that the vehicle be on your right than on the left. The closer you can be
to the centre of the intersection when you go thru it, the more air there is (on average)
between you and somebody that comes at you from either side. This is just another way of
saying that if you have to enter the intersection by yourself, do it in the left most lane.

                                     By James R. Davis

Sometimes you can't win. I just had to replace a virtually new Elite II rear tire on my
motorcycle because it had picked up a couple of small nails.

I know, all I really had to do was plug the tire. Right? Wrong!

Here are a few things you might consider about tire plugs:

   Almost any single puncture (thru the tread) can be repaired by the use of a tire plug.
   (I would be willing to ride with a properly {from the inside} plugged tire anytime.)
   You cannot put more than one plug within the same quadrant of a tire - safely.
   You cannot put more than two plugs into a tire - period.

The manufacturers of tire plugs specifically disavow the safety of doing either of the last two
items listed above. They also void their speed warranties as a result of any tire plugging. Your
tire is probably marked with an 'H' speed designation, meaning it is rated for safety up to 130
MPH. If you have even one tire plug in it you should not drive faster than about 80 MPH using
that tire.

I had picked up three small nails in my tire. All three leaked air when I removed them. 'My
kingdom for a horse!' It cost me $150 for another new Elite II. (Life is too important to be left in
the hands of three plugs when the manufacturers refuse to stand up for their safety.)

[In case you missed it earlier, every reference made here about 'tire plugs' refers to
professionally installed, from the inside, tire repair plugs - NOT the emergency roadside repair
kits which install from the outside of your tire.]

                                     By James R. Davis

Excessive tire wear, and/or cupping, is a problem that most motorcyclists experience over
time. Too often this is simply the result of failing to maintain proper tire pressure. However,
this is far from a complete answer.

Cupping is a phenomena that is absolutely normal! Excessive cupping or excessive wear on
one side of the tire as compared to the other is not.

There are at least seven causes of cupping and/or uneven wear in the front tire other than tire
air pressure:

   Most roads are banked away from the centre. Thus, if you ride vertical, the side of
   your tire closest to the centre of the road wears more.
   Your tires 'scuff' when you force a speed change with them. The rear tire scuffs
   when you accelerate and when you brake (and every time you ride in a direction
   other than straight ahead.) Thus, it tends to have even 'cupping' as compared to the
   front tire (which scuffs when you brake but not when you accelerate.)
   While alignment is not usually a problem with motorcycles - it can be.
   Carrying an unevenly divided load (all your tools, jumper cable, etc.) in one
   saddlebag can result in your riding the bike other than vertical most of the time.
   Setting your TRAC (anti-dive) unequally can easily cause uneven tire wear.
   If one of your front shocks is defective you will experience uneven tire wear.
   Excessive use of the front brake will result in excessive cupping.

                                    By James R. Davis

There are two things that tend to cause new riders to want to keep their bikes vertical:

   They are afraid, based on a previous dump caused by a combination of slow-speed
   turn and the application of brakes.
   They are afraid, based on a concern that their engines will die in a slow speed turn
   and result in a dump.

(See the Tip titled Dumping A Bike Is No Sin .)

Engine's die if they are cold and not properly choked or if setup with idle too slow. Thus, you
do not practice slow speed turns with a cold bike. The rider must 'know' that their engines will
continue to run without having to 'race' them. Otherwise, they focus on throttle action rather
than balance during their turns.

 One trick I have learned that tends to loosen up fears of
 leaving the vertical for newbies is to have them
 experience 'low centre of gravity' - first with their
 imaginations, then in real life. That is, I have them
 imagine a broomstick with a bowling ball fastened on
 one end. I ask them to imagine holding that broomstick
 with one end on the ground and the end with the
 bowling ball on it straight into the air. I ask them to tell
 me how far they would allow the top of the broomstick
 to move away from vertical. They understand instantly
that you need to keep that broomstick standing virtually
straight up or it will fall. Then I ask them the same
question with the only difference being that the bowling
ball end is on the ground. Clearly the top of the stick can wander very far indeed from being
straight up without fear of losing control of it. This is the 'power' of having a low centre of

[This article represents parking lot practice exercises I put together for some friends before I
became an MSF Instructor. I never 'taught' motorcycle riding to anyone except friends other
than as an MSF Instructor.]

Then I have them drive their bikes while standing on their pegs rather than sitting in the
saddle. I ask them to 'weave a little' but not to allow their heads to move at all. The bikes are
moved left and right under them, but manage a relatively straight line. There is not the
slightest possibility that they will fall. Clearly the centre of gravity must be very low for this to
be true and they see that. I ask them to make a few more laps, keeping their heads 'straight
up', but this time sitting in their saddles.

While most of us enjoy leaning with our bikes when we make turns, I have found that a
newbie can be encouraged to lean their bikes more easily if you show them that they can do
so without they themselves having to lean. Thus, after I have them 'weave a little' while
keeping their heads in the same place, I have them make a turn leaning only their bikes.
Keeping their heads absolutely vertical so that they 'see the horizon the same way all the
time'. This is almost nonsense, but it does seem to work for some. After a few laps they are
amazed at how far they have managed to lean their bikes without moving their heads from
vertical. I have them practice this until they are able to 'push the bike away from them until
their arms are straight.' It gets easier over time.

Now, as to how to get them to lean their bikes and make sweet turns - In a parking lot I have
them sit on their bikes (engine running) at a dead stop and then turn their handlebars all the
way to their stops in both directions. I insist that from either extreme they can drive away from
where they are. To begin with, they are to slip their clutches and walk the bikes out of their
positions. This is most intimidating, but proves to be easy enough with effort. I have them
practice this in both directions.

Then I challenge them: "OK, that is a simple exercise for you to do each time you come to this
parking lot. Full stop, handlebars turned in either direction to their full stop position, then drive
out of it. Oh, and for your personal score, see how fast you can get your feet onto the pegs."
Before they know it they are leaning their bikes instantly, feet up on their pegs, from a dead
stop and they can make any corner they ever come to.

Please! You must explain to them that they will drop their bikes if they ever hit the brakes
doing this!!! That slow speed turning and brakes do not mix well. That is why I teach them that
a slow speed dump is nothing to be afraid of first.

Finally, I show them some VCR footage of
motorcycle racing. I point out how the rider
keeps his head vertical and that if the bike is
moving 20 MPH or more you can SAFELY
lean it until the pegs touch the ground!! That
you must get into your head that if you think
it cannot lean any farther then THAT is the
time that you should lean it a bit farther and
to roll on a bit more gas (not less!!!!).

In all of the practice I misdirect their minds away from their brakes. I constantly tell them that
slow speed control is a function of the left hand, not the right. I make them play with their
friction-zones using the clutch to see how slowly they can drive in a straight line! I tell them,
over and over, that if you are leaning a bike (meaning you are turning) you MUST NOT USE
YOUR BRAKE or you will dump it. (I remind you that this is SLOW SPEED advice.) That to
stop you must straighten the bike out FIRST! (This is ANY SPEED advice.) Anyway, these
lessons all conspire to demonstrate that they are capable of controlling a bike at slow speeds
better than they imagined. And they soon take corners like a pro. Leaning becomes 'fun' and

                                    By James R. Davis

If the readers here do not mind, I would like to post an article that talks of shock absorbers in
an effort to remove any mystery about what they do and how they work. Safety issues are
often merely technology issues - once you understand the technology.

To begin with, they do not absorb shocks - your springs do that.

When your bike hits a bump in the road your wheels can do nothing but follow the curve of
that bump. Your tires compress fractionally, but not enough to make a meaningful difference
in the effects that bump will have on the rest of the bike, and you. If the wheels of your bike
were connected directly to the frame, without springs and shocks, the bike would rise at least
as high as the bump, almost instantly. The effect, of course, is that, if severe enough, when
the bike came back down you would be left in the air. Your hands would probably not be
jerked off the grips, so they would be pulled forward with the rest of the bike while the rest of
you was still in the air - and then, worse, you would come down.

Obviously, the fix to that problem is to keep as much of the bike other than the wheels from
rising in reaction to that bump (i.e., make as much of the bike as possible 'sprung weight'.)
There is a tremendous amount of kinetic energy imparted to the wheels when they hit that
bump. That energy must be captured before it is transferred to the bike's frame. And that is
exactly what the springs do. By compressing, the springs absorb the energy from the wheels.

Remember pogo sticks? If all you had between the wheels and the frame of your bike were
springs, then the only difference the springs would make would be a short delay before the
bike was tossed into the air after hitting the bump. That is, once compressed the only thing
the springs can do is decompress (that's the law). The energy the springs will exert during
decompression is almost equal to the energy that went into compressing them in the first
place. (A token amount of the kinetic energy will be converted to heat to make up the

Now we can understand what the shocks do. They DRAMATICALLY slow down the
decompression of your springs (and in the process they convert much more than a token of
the total kinetic energy stored in those springs into heat.)

A shock absorber consists of a tube filled with oil, which acts as a hydraulic fluid, and a piston
(which is not physically connected to any part of the tube) that slides up and down within that
tube, pushing its way through the oil. The piston is connected to one end of the shock
absorber via a steel rod, the tube is connected to the other. One end of the shock absorber is
connected to the frame of the bike while the other end is connected to the wheel hub (or to a
swing arm that is connected to the hub.) Thus, when the wheel moves up towards the rest of
the bike the piston is pushed thru the oil. The oil provides resistance to the movement of the
piston which slows it down. In the process kinetic energy is converted to heat. (This is why
you must change your shock absorber oil regularly - the heat breaks it down.) The oil in these
tubes would totally stop the movement of the piston were it not for the existence of a valve in
the piston that allowed the fluid to pass thru it. This is because, like water, the oil cannot itself
be compressed. That valve can be made to allow fluids to flow faster in one direction than the
other. For example, you would probably want your springs to compress faster than they are
allowed to decompress. Without that valve your springs would not compress at all, leaving
you as bad off as if the wheels were directly connected to the frame. Similarly, if the springs
are too strong for the load they are carrying, too much of the kinetic energy will be conveyed
directly to the frame of the bike, because they will compress too slowly, if at all.

But just as slowing the compression rate of the springs too much results in ineffective control
of bumps, allowing their decompression to happen too quickly is just as bad. Were that to
happen you would have 'pogo stick' reactions to bumps. So, it is essential that the design of
the springs and shocks on your bike take into account how heavy the bike is and what kind of
riding you do. But all such designs are compromises, and you can do things to totally frustrate
the designers’ intentions - and end up hurt or worse as a result.

For example, when you put a passenger or heavy luggage on your bike you should increase
the tension of the springs surrounding your shocks. Failing to do that can overload the system
and get you close to the 'pogo stick' level of responses from them. Taking a street machine
into the country, off road, and pretending it's a motocross machine can do the same.

But even assuming you don't do anything that extreme you will find that the design of your
shocks is not perfect. (If it was, you would never feel a bump in the road.) The fact is,

sometimes the road surface changes from perfectly level to bumpy. And some of those
bumps (and potholes) can be awesome. This is where a few dollars can make a difference.
You can replace the springs that come stock on your bike with a set that are called
'progressives'. These provide a normal soft ride until they are confronted with an unusually
severe bump, at which point they get harder and harder to compress. And while the oil in the
shocks cannot be compressed, air can be. So some shocks (aren't GoldWings wonderful?)
are 'air assisted' - in addition to the oil they have a small amount of air in the tubes. These 'air
assisted' shock systems are sometimes attached to an onboard compressor that can be used
to increase or decrease the pressure of the air, thus making the shocks either harder or softer
without having to change the compression of the springs when your load weight or the road
surface changes substantially. (Also, of course, you can increase the weight of the oil in the
shocks to slow them down.)

The shock absorber 'system' on your rear wheel tends to have larger springs and have them
mounted on the outside of the hydraulic tubes while the one on your front wheel have the
springs within the tubes. The ones in the front are contained within the 'forks'. If you take a
close look at your shocks you will find that the ones in the rear are typically angled forward
from the wheel to the frame of the bike while the ones in the front are angled backwards.
These angles tend to be directly in-line with weight shifts resulting from acceleration and

The angle of the front shocks (forks), usually called the bike's 'rake', is essential to maintain! It
establishes, along with the front-end 'offset', the bike's 'trail' which determines the bikes
handling and steering control. The more extreme the rake is on your bike, the 'slower' your
steering will be. (Except at extremely slow speeds - where extreme rakes often result in the
wheel 'flopping' over and dumping the bike if you do not have your hands firmly in control of
the grips.) If you were, for example, to lower your bike by shortening the front and back
shocks, the wheelbase would also be shortened (the distance between the front and back
tires). Since your front wheel would touch the ground closer to directly under your handlebars,
your steering would 'quicken' as a result. In fact, even shortening the shocks by only one inch
could result in steering that was so fast that your steering damper (another small shock
absorber) could not safely handle it. The result, known as a 'tank slapper', would be violent
swings of the wheel from side to side, and with high probability a dumped bike. (That is an
overstatement. If you absorb some of the oscillation into your arms and avoid transferring that
into the rest of the bike (through your contact with the seat), or use some braking caused
weight transfer to the front of the bike, you can abort the 'harmonic' and probably avoid
dumping it.)

Your shock absorber systems make your bike controllable. Make sure they receive factory
recommended oil changes, do not modify them, adjust them for major changes in the weight
of your vehicle or expected road conditions, and they will do their jobs reliably.

                                     By James R. Davis

Before I let a passenger onto my bike I host a briefing with them. I explain that so long as they
are on my bike THEY are the boss - that if they want to slow down, or to stop, for any reason,
we will do so. I explain that it is not my intention to scare them, ever, while they are on the

bike, but to help them enjoy the experience. In exchange for this there is a price: They have
four jobs while riding as passenger, and they must agree to get on and off the bike only with
the permission of the driver.

I explain the 'passenger twist' where they connect their helmet cord while facing the bike, then
do a full turn clockwise so that the cord wraps behind them before they get on the bike. That
they get on and off only while I am on the bike, which is in neutral, and have both feet down
and the side stand up (this, because if the side stand is down and they plump themselves on
the saddle they will compress the shocks and that will lever the bike to the right - possibly all
the way over onto its side!) I nod and tell them it is OK to get on the bike when I'm ready for
them. I do the same when I'm ready for them to leave the bike. Finally, I ask that when they
mount and dismount the bike they try to keep their weight centred on the bike - that they not
pull the bike towards them but, rather, push themselves towards the bike.

I explain that while we are moving they can talk to me if they want, and that they may use the
PTT button near their left hand to talk on the CB, but as to moving around, I'd prefer that they
pretended to be a sack of potatoes (actually, I tell them they can move about, just not
suddenly) - that they NOT try to help me through the turns - that they not lean in anticipation
or when we are in a turn.

I tell them that I have never had an accident, but that no matter what happens while we are
moving, they are to keep their feet on the passenger floorboards and never, ever, try to touch
the ground with their feet to try to hold up the motorcycle. I show them the saddlebag guard
rails and point out that they are heavy steel, like 'roll bars', and will protect their legs only so
long as their feet remain on those floorboards.

Oh, as to those 'jobs' they have:

   They are to wave at all motorcyclists approaching us in the opposite direction
   They are to wave at all policemen who are on their feet
   They are to wave at all children that show any interest whatever
   They are to demonstrate to the world that they are enjoying themselves, particularly
   at all rest stops. Failing any of those jobs, I declare, will result in them having a new
   job when the ride is over - the spokes!

(There are no spokes on my Wing, of course.)

As to my own personal rules while riding with a passenger:

   The only thing I want to 'show off' is that riding a motorcycle can be safe and

   I wish to challenge myself with the task of trying to shift gears without the
   passenger being aware of the activity (no head snaps in either direction.)

   I want to start and stop with the passenger never quite sure that we have started to
   move or that we have come to a full stop - i.e., smoothness all around.

                                  By James R. Davis

The MSF classes must teach an enormous number of facts and skills to people who must be
assumed to have no experience whatever with motorcycles. As such, they do not have time to
teach the kinds of things that are found in these various Tips & Techniques articles, or they
have insufficient time to emphasize these various ideas to the extent that I do. [Lest anybody
gets the wrong idea, this Tip is not meant to be antagonistic towards the MSF nor of its
teachings - I am one of the strongest advocates of MSF training to be found anywhere.]

  When riding alone or in the lead of a group, as you approach the crest of a hill, move
  away from the centre line. By the time oncoming traffic is visible it can be too late to
  move should you find someone coming at you in your lane if you have not already
  bought some air-space. (Actually, this one IS taught in the MSF class - I include it for
  When riding in a group it is far more important to put your most
  qualified/experienced/prepared rider in the drag position than it is to put that person
  in the lead. This person is, after all, the first person who will need to deal with an
  accident, is in the best position to observe the riding skills of the others and
  recommend changes to accommodate them if need be, and is the person that most
  often obtains that new lane for the group. That's plenty of activity and responsibility,
  and merits the best, not the worst of the group.
                                                        When riding as a group, lane
                                                        changes into a lane that is moving
                                                        slower than you are should be done
                                                        just as you do when passing a car -
                                                        one at a time, first bike to last. The
                                                        drag bike being the last bike to
                                                        make the lane change. Observe that
                                                        so long as the lead bike takes over
                                                        the slower lane and maintains
                                                        speed, the hole in the target lane
                                                        gets larger and everybody can
                                                        move over (one by one) with
                                                        minimal time consumed. Only after
                                                        the drag bike has made the lane
                                                        change should speeds for the
                                                        group be changed (lowered) to
                                                        insure that everyone can get into
                                                        the new lane. Note, please, that this
                                                        assumes that there is sufficient
                                                        opening ahead of the car being
                                                        passed. If not, then a last-to-front
                                                        manoeuvre is called for (the lead
                                                        bike will slow the group down upon
                                                        hearing that the drag bike has
  obtained the lane.) The choice is made by the lead bike.

                                                  When riding as a group, lane
                                                  changes into a lane that is moving
                                                  faster than you are should be done
                                                  back to front - the drag bike
                                                  obtaining the lane, and the others
                                                  coming over only after the bike
                                                  behind them has moved, and only if
                                                  they individually confirm it is safe to
                                                  do so. Pretty standard stuff, I'll
                                                  grant you, other than the last to first
                                                  moves. This is done because with
                                                  the drag bike in position and
                                                  maintaining his original speed, the
                                                  'hole' in the target lane gets larger
                                                  in front of him. If you wait until
                                                  everyone can move into it at once,
                                                  that hole is awfully inviting to
                                                  impatient automobile drivers too.

One lesson that the MSF class teaches that I think needs to be clarified better is
their admonition to always stop with one foot on the ground. Fine, if it is a small
bike, but a touring bike should be stopped placing both feet on the ground at the
same time, in my opinion. A slick spot is unforgiving, and very dangerous. Your rear
brake can be released if your front brake is holding at 2 MPH with no concerns
whatever. (Obviously, you do not put feet down until the bike is fully stopped.) The
MSF used to teach that you stop with your RIGHT foot on the ground and the other
on the peg. That was changed to LEFT foot down so that you could keep your right
foot on the brake. In either case, by definition, your bike is not vertical with only one
foot on the ground. If you must make a fast departure (to get out of somebody's
way, for example), it takes more time to do so with one foot down rather than two.
This, because you must straighten the bike as you depart, you have a more erratic
start, and you must first take your right foot OFF the brake - all time consuming.
Finally, you can probably rather easily handle a smaller bike with one leg, but a large
touring bike is another case entirely. [There are always exceptions to the rule, of
course. If you are stopped at a light on a severe incline, your right foot belongs on
the brake pedal. Similarly, in a panic stop situation you want to stop with your foot
still on the rear brake.]
Another lesson that is not quite emphasized enough in MSF class is that your
mirrors only say NO. That is, if you see a problem in your mirrors, they are telling
you NOT to move into that problem. If they do not show you a problem that is not
the same as them saying YES, make your move. Head checks every time (MSF does
teach this!)
If it's shiny or black, ride a different track. Just because you are in staggered
formation does NOT mean that you have to stay in your track. There is a whole lane
at your disposal without encroaching on the traffic rights of other motorists. You
ride staggered to give you manoeuvring room in case you need it. Rather than ride
over a patch of shiny or unusually black surface, assume you need it.

Freeway riding invites some obvious survival rules that for some reason or other
seem to be ignored by most. For example,
Assuming you are in the slow or second slowest lane and you approach an on-
ramp, do a head check to the right. Equally as important, if you are approaching an
off-ramp, do a head check to the LEFT (and catch that guy who is about to cut in
front of you to make his exit).
If you have a choice of lanes to ride in, the second fastest lane is a compelling
choice. This allows a way for the hot dogs to pass you (more or less legally), and is,

not incidentally, where the least lane changing takes place (unless it is a three-lane
road, of course.)
There is nothing magic or sacred about avoiding the centre track of your lane.
Debris usually ends up not in the centre track, but on the lines on a freeway. Since
there is so little stopping on a freeway, the centre track is usually not significantly
more greasy than to either side of it. So, in high wind situations, favour the centre
track. Passing between a pair of 18-wheelers, use the centre track. Riding in the fast
lane with a guard rail or retaining wall near by, use the centre track.

                              By James R. Davis

   This is a reasonably accurate graphic of a Highside accident
          personally witnessed by both Elaine and myself.

                                   By James R. Davis

More often than not, making a mistake while riding a motorcycle leads to misfortune, usually
not serious, but sometimes fatal. One of the most deadly mistakes you can make is called
doing a highside.

When a bike is 'dumped', or 'laid down', it falls DOWN, gravity assisted, all the way to the
ground and ends up on its side. At slow speeds this usually results in little or no damage to
the bike or the rider. Even at higher speeds, given that the rider is wearing appropriate
protective clothing, most damage is restricted to the bike. In either case, these are known as

doing a lowside - meaning that the rider exits the bike by going in the direction of the fall:

Obviously, doing a highside means that you exit the bike by being thrown up and over the
high side of the bike. That, in itself, is not particularly deadly, but it happens that the bike
usually follows the rider into the air and then it comes back down, often on top of him. Not too
many people survive such an encounter.

So how does a highside happen? What causes it and what can you do to prevent it from

To begin with, a highside starts when you use so much rear brake pressure that you lock your
rear wheel. If you are in a curve, (or if you have also applied your front brake while going in a
straight line, or if there is substantial road camber, or severely unbalanced loading of the
motorcycle), this starts the rear end sliding/skewing away from the direction the bike had been
moving because traction is diminished on the rear tire (it has become 'sliding friction' - about
80% of what it was just prior to the skid) and that tire has begun to MOVE FASTER (in the
direction of bike movement) than the front tire (centrifugal force, among others, is having its
way.) The automatic, and correct, driver response to this situation is to turn the front wheel in
the direction of the slide. [Actually, the front wheel will turn in the direction of the slide by itself
- your job is merely to let it.] But now he can make a mistake that can cost him his life - he can
release the rear brake.

Let's look at what is happening at the instant his rear brake locks up causing his rear wheel to
begin to slide and the instant that he releases pressure on the rear brake. Let's assume a
rider is in a gentle turn at the time. (Riding in a straight line is exactly the same as soon as the
rear wheel starts to skew to one side or the other of the front wheel track.) The bike is moving
in the direction pointed to by the front tire at this instant. Note that the back tire is always
'scuffing' a little as it tries to get into the same direction pointed to by the front tire.

Now at this instant the rear brake locks and the rear wheel loses a significant amount of its
traction (at least 20%). It begins to skew outward from the centre of the curve.

The driver now allows the front wheel to turn in the direction of the slide. The direction of bike
                                       travel has thus changed. Meanwhile, the rear end
                                       continues to slide and is still moving FASTER than the
                                       front end at this instant. The bike is trying to 'lay down'
                                       [because with the rear-wheel no longer spinning you
                                       have lost its gyroscopic effect and, thus, attitude
                                       stability for about 80% of the bike] and will do so if
                                       nothing else happens quickly.

                                         But the rider, realizing that his rear end is sliding
                                         completely out of control, decides to release the
                                         pressure on the rear brake to try to drive out of the
                                         situation. When he does so the rear tire, which is being
                                         dragged forward as well as to the side, is suddenly
able to start turning again. This allows it to move in the forward direction much more easily
than a moment before, and just as suddenly it regains traction (mind you, it lost only about
20% of its traction when it began to slide and it is picking up only that 20% or so of traction at
this point.)

Whether the engine is driving the rear tire or not, because the bike is not simply
'dragging/scuffing' the rear tire forward with it (because the tire is now rotating), the bike
begins to move faster (actually, is slowing more slowly) in the direction pointed to by the front
tire. At the same time, because full traction has been regained, the sliding movement of the
rear end of the bike comes to an abrupt end. And what next happens is the highside!

Whether the slide movement of the rear end is abruptly stopped because the rear wheel hits a
curb, or because the tire has regained traction, the results are the same: centrifugal force,
coupled with inertia, try to keep the centre of gravity of the bike moving in the direction it was
last travelling. Since the bottom of the rear wheel has stopped sliding, (all stopping forces are
at the contact patch), clearly a torque is developed. The result is that the bike is violently
twisted in the direction of the earlier slide. The front wheel actually helps this twisting action
because it has a bearing in its axle and the bike merely rotates using that bearing as an axis.

Naturally, the driver will be thrown in the same direction as the bike is twisted.

The mistake, of course, was releasing the pressure on the rear brake. Said differently, if you
are in a situation where the rear wheel is sliding out from under you, despite having turned the
front wheel in the direction of the slide, then the safest course of action is to RIDE THE BIKE
INTO THE GROUND - do a lowside. (i.e., do NOT release the pressure on the rear brake.)

Let me also add that there is one more thing that could have been done to avoid the highside
described here: always straighten the bike BEFORE you aggressively use your brakes when
in a curve!

If the bike is moving in a straight line, particularly if the bike has any form of integrated
braking, and the rear wheel brake locks resulting in a skid, it is still possible to do a highside,
but the odds of doing so are far less than when in a curve [the faster you are moving, and the
greater the camber (slope) of the road, the higher the odds.] Still, the best decision the rider
can make is to NOT RELEASE the rear brake if it is locked to try to insure that a highside
does not result.

Abruptly releasing the front brake when the rear wheel is locked and skidding can also cause
a highside because it will increase rear wheel weight and, therefore, traction. Nevertheless,
the only possible way to 'ride out' of this situation is to get the front end of the bike to go faster
than the rear in the direction of the skid. Thus, a gentle relaxation of the front brake is a
reasonable action to take. (Note, however, that with any form of integrated braking, this is
virtually hopeless because so long as the rear brake is applied the front brake is also being
applied.) Increasing front brake pressure, on the other hand, will almost certainly result in
immediately laying the bike down on the low side.

Can a highside occur if you do not release the rear brake pressure at all? You bet! If you have
ever witnessed a 'straight line' highside accident you will remember that the skid mark was a
straight line until the very end at which point it became a 'J'. What that shows is that the rider
successfully managed to keep his front wheel pointed in the direction of the skid until he had
turned his wheel to its limit (a 'stop' was reached.) When that happens, of course, he can no
longer continue to turn into the skid and the direction the bike travels begins to abruptly
change - the skid increases until it presents a 90 degree tire face in the direction the bike is
moving, which happens to present the largest contact patch 'face' perpendicular to direction of
travel and, thus, maximizes the odds that traction can be re-established. This, then, is
approximately when the bike stops its skid and violently snaps into the air.

Having seen that a rear end skid requires that you gently relax front brake pressure and
maintain rear brake pressure in hopes that the front wheel can be coaxed into catching up
with the rear one (slow more slowly), what should you do if the front wheel begins to skid
instead of the rear one? EXACTLY THE SAME THING! Gently release the front brake and
maintain the rear one! Thus, you do not have to make a decision based on which tire is
skidding. The reaction is the same.

So, above I said that if you have a choice you should ride the bike into the ground rather than
do a highside. I also said that the dynamics will almost certainly result in a highside even if
you do what is corrective - turning into the slide and feathering the front brake. Is it hopeless?
Must you do the highside? Not at all. It means that as soon as you know the attempt you are
making is not going to work, CLIMB ON THE FRONT BRAKE! This will FORCE a lowside!!! (If

you have any form of interlocked brakes you can also force a lowside by INCREASING rear-
brake pressure because that increases front-brake pressure as well.)

Please, I do not want to get flamed for suggesting that you actively lowside your bike! If you
have ever seen the results of a highside, you should kiss the ground that you have the ability
to stop it by laying your bike down. If you can do it, do it. If not, good luck to you anyway.

[I have been asked why aggressively using the front brake will cause a lowside rather than
making a highside happen sooner. This is because by applying front brake you cause weight
transfer that further relieves the rear wheel traction which, in turn, both reduces the odds of a
highside and slows the bike faster. i.e., it falls over (lowsides) sooner.]

Some people have argued that if you can release the rear brake quickly enough after it locks
you can avoid a highside and regain control of your bike. This is TRUE! However, you
should understand what that really means. There is a difference between a SKID and a
SLIDE. During a skid your tire is not rotating at the same speed as the bike is moving and so
you scrub off some rubber but you are still fundamentally in control of your bike - that is, the
tire is still pointing in the direction of bike movement during a skid. During a slide, however,
the bike is FALLING OVER and the rear wheel is moving laterally - to the side - and you are
no longer in control of your bike. If you release the rear brake during a skid you will feel a
modest 'jerk' as the rear wheel regains traction and you continue on - UNDER CONTROL. If
you release the rear brake while in a slide regaining control is far from assured as the 'jerk'
becomes a very severe 'jolt', or worse, a high-side.

So, the advice to not release the rear brake when it is locked refers to the situation where a
SLIDE HAS BEGUN. For almost everybody this means NEVER RELEASE A LOCKED
REAR BRAKE because a slide begins VERY QUICKLY in the real world and most people
cannot react quickly enough or even recognize that the rear tire is sliding - it is foolish in the
extreme to pretend that you are the exception and can catch it before that slide has begun.


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